THESE PEOPLE

jesus feet

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

Twitter @celebraterecvry

http://www.celebraterecovery.com

The One Thing That Can Change Our World

rembrant-prodigal-son-detail

I wrote this poem about the one thing that can change our 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 but…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.

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.  In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”

Brennan Manning “The Ragamuffin Gospel”

Where Do You Find God?

Where is God 2

The writer of Hebrews says “God rewards those who sincerely look for him.”

All human beings have one thing in common.
It’s to connect to their creator.

That’s why humans can act extremely strange and erratic.
They may act in destructive ways to deny that desire or they may act in strange ways to try to fulfill that desire to connect.

There’s an old song “Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places.”

I think that in our world, in religious circles and even in my own life, we are many times looking for God in all the wrong places.

Sometimes I’m looking for God in a worship experience or in a teaching or in a class or in a particular religion but I am reminded of the words of Jesus:

“I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

The words seem so simple, the instructions uncomplicated.

I was just recently in Seattle and I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus called, he wants his religion back.”

Embarrassingly, religion spends billions of dollars every year on buildings, politics, programs, rituals and war, trying to find God when the truth is God is around every corner.

He’s the homeless person needing shelter.
She’s the abused mom looking for safety.
He’s the dying aids patient hoping for someone to care.
She’s the prostitute begging for intimacy.
He’s your neighbor wondering what life is all about.
It’s your co-worker fighting depression.
It’s the forgotten elderly couple who children never visit, barely getting by on their social security check.

Tradition says that when St. Francis of Assisi turned his back on wealth to seek God in simplicity, he stripped naked and walked out of the city. Now I don’t recommend the stripping naked part, but the story says that he soon encountered a leper on the side of the road. He passed him and then went back and embraced the diseased man.  St. Francis then continued on his journey and after a few steps he turned to look again at the leper but no one was there. For the rest of his life he believed the leper was Jesus and I think he was right.

JESUS IN ALL HIS DISGUISES.

Author Max Lucado says, “Jesus lives in the forgotten. He has taken up residence in the ignored. He has made a mansion amidst the ill. If we want to see God we must go among the broken and beaten and there we will see them, we will see HIM.”

If that is the case, then it’s easier to find God than we think.

The Power of an Orange Chair

isolated chair

THIS FREE DOWNLOADABLE BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE SELFLESS, PASSIONATE, GENEROUS SERVANTS OF GREEN VALLEY COMMUNITY CHURCH  http://www.live58.org/7mandates

I am a hungry student of Grace.

When I began to explore grace, it changed my world. It made me less religious and more graceful (except on the dance floor).

Grace made me less critical of others and more committed to growing my heart. Grace made me less fearful.

I became less exclusive and much more inclusive after realizing grace is for everyone.

I discovered freedom.

Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” Jack Nicholson said, “You can’t handle the truth.” But I think Jack was wrong. I think we can handle it. It can be scary—counter-intuitive—but it will set you free!

For those of you who have been hurt, shamed, abused and manipulated in the name of God, I am so sorry!

My heart breaks daily as I live in this paradox of being a pastor, yet see the hypocrisy in our religious world and even in my own heart.

But don’t run away from grace. Don’t run away from the truth that can set you free.

My life changed forever in college when I discovered grace.

The rest of the world operates on Karma. You get what you deserve.

But Jesus came and offered us this amazing, wonderful gift called grace, where we get something better than what we deserve.

Since grace happened to me, I don’t judge other’s beliefs or religions; I just hope they someday discover grace, because Jesus cut through all religious ceremonies and traditions to get to the heart of the matter. We need grace.

He did the only thing that could be done to get grace. It was the crucifixion.

This book aims to bring credibility back to the church and to obey Jesus’ call to share grace in tangible ways to our world.

Credibility comes from obeying Jesus’ teaching to shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the rejected, touch the untouchable, fight for the abused, and take care of the widow and orphan.

When the church begins to share God’s grace in those tangible ways, credibility will come back to the church.

This is my life mission and my life goal.

It’s all Grace,

Ken Burkey
Senior Pastor–Green Valley Community Church
burkeyk@gvcconline.net
http://www.kenburkey.com
twitter @kenburkey

THIS FREE DOWNLOADABLE BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE SELFLESS, PASSIONATE, GENEROUS SERVANTS OF GREEN VALLEY COMMUNITY CHURCH   http://www.live58.org/7mandates

6 Questions That I Would LOVE to hear your answers!

1. When it comes to fixing something that is broken in our world, what are you most passionate about?

2. Who have been the most influential people in your life and why?

3. When it comes to having hope, (10 being a lot of hope and 1 being no hope), how would you rate the future and why?

4. With over 300,000 churches in America (with 4000 closing their doors every year), what impact do you think the church is having in our culture when it comes to Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:18-19?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
    Because He has anointed Me
    To preach the gospel to the poor;
    He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
   To proclaim liberty to the captives
   And recovery of sight to the blind,
   To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
   To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

5. What specific things could the American church do better to represent Luke 4:18-19?

6. With all the problems in America, does the American church have an obligation to address global poverty? If yes, why? If no, why?

I can’t wait to hear what you think!

Where there is no vision, people perish

They say that those who can’t, end up teaching
But I say those who won’t, end up critiquing
They say, stay close to those who are for you
I say, those that are for you are sadly few

They say, I’m all about team, but what’s in it for me
But I say, If you have to ask, then it’s more about identity
They say, I am all the way in, you can count on me
I say, in the end, it’s all about their security

They say, things I want to hear, with a face full of fun
But I say, behind closed doors, they wish I were gone
They say, we can do it on our own, we don’t need you
I say, be careful what you wish for, dreams do come true

Miracles don’t happen by dabbling, only by immersion
Miracles happen by many, not just one
Miracles happen by values, by the choices we choose
Miracles happen by vision, not taking others clues

Being popular is dangerous, a worn out treadmill
Consuming your mind, trying to get the lead bill
Fame is cotton candy, sweet at first, then quickly fleeting
It’s the drug of choice, in this celebrity media frenzy

Paul writes that the most important parts are hidden
So why does the man on stage get the recognition
Paul writes my weaknesses are ok because He is strong
So why does the man on stage sing a different song

They say, be sold out, be dedicated, but within reason
I say, I must be fully in, regardless of the season
They say, make sure you get out of the way, let others lead
I say, I don’t think I am done yet, my hurting heart still bleeds

They say, what about local, seems not enough people hired
I say, what about global, to whom much given is required
They say, I can’t afford to live, where is my Iphone 5
I say, they can’t afford to live, many die before age 5

They say, I have to simplify, I’ve lost the American dream
I say, our wants have lost the reality of our true needs
They say, once I get set then I will surely help others
I say, blessings come by first serving sisters and brothers

Spending so much time trying to look important
Dabbling has made the church benign and impotent
Jesus said, If you want to gain your life you must lose it
Not for the faint of heart, they are words of immersion

They say, give people rules, it’s the role of religion
I say, rules kill people, it leads to short term conviction
They say, but without rules, our world is undisciplined
I say, we have more rules, than history ever intended

They say, tell people to stop, tell them be strong enough
I say, I stopped drinking by myself, that’s called a dry drunk
They say, living a righteous life is what you don’t do
I say, righteousness means living justice outside the pew

They say, thy kingdom come, they will be done
They say, but you can’t be both democrat and republican
I say, God is bigger politics, He is bigger than religion
I say, it’s mad Grace and the work He has given

In the words of Mr. Chesterton:
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting
It has been difficult, untried, and daunting

In the words of Jesus of Nazareth:
If you want to gain your life, you must lose it
If you want to be greatest become a servant

If you invite someone to a banquet, invite those who can’t reimburse you…
Forgiving your enemy, feeding the hungry, redeeming rather than condemning is the life you are to pursue…

Our attitude is to be like Christ, it’s a life daily dying
It’s an attitude I’m not close to, if I said so I’d be lying
My titles, posturing and positions are taking a toll
My only peace comes from Grace filling this God-shaped hole

My Life Verse – A Useful Sacrifice

There are a lot of useless sacrifices in our world.

If my wife was to go out of town for a week, I could perform a lot of meaningless sacrifices for her while she was gone.

When my wife comes home if I tell her, “Honey, I sacrificed a lot for you while you were gone. I didn’t watch sports while you were gone, I didn’t eat my favorite foods while you were gone and I didn’t listen to my favorite music while you were gone. I did all of that for you.”

Her response would be, “Who cares! Those sacrifices don’t mean anything to me. Those sacrifices were useless.”

But if while my wife was gone, I deep cleaned the house, mowed the lawn and finished some house projects that needed to be done (This is all theory by the way), then my wife’s response would be, “Wow! You are an amazing husband. Those sacrifices mean everything to me. Those sacrifices were so useful.”

There are a lot of useless sacrifices in our world.

Even more so, there are a lot of useless sacrifices in the religious world.

My life verse is Isaiah 58 because it reminds me of what a useless sacrifice is and what a useful one is.

The people of Israel were busy going through the religious motions of the day. They were attending church, fasting from food, giving their alms and wearing clothes that showed everyone how spiritual they really were, yet God was not impressed, in fact He told them that all the religious hoops they were jumping through were useless sacrifices.

They were useless, not because going to church or fasting is wrong. They were useless because while they were doing those things they were oppressing workers, fighting and quarreling, forgetting the hungry and homeless and ignoring their own relatives who were in need.

So God reminded them what useful sacrifices look like:

“No, this is the kind of fasting [useful sacrifice] I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.”

Isaiah 58 shows us that useless sacrifices lead to our prayers falling on deaf ears, and God’s blessings seem fleeting.

Isaiah 58 also shows us that useful sacrifices lead to God not only listening to our prayers, but our useful sacrifices lead to healing, protection and answered prayer.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.”

Ultimately, our useful sacrifices lead to our lives being a light of hope, our lives being guarded and guided, our strength being renewed and we will be known as people who care and help our communities and families become strong.

“Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.”

Mother Teresa’s words challenge us, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

These are the useful sacrifices that those of us who say we are followers of Christ should be involved in.

A Leader’s Lament

Sometimes I care too much, my ego trumps reason
Sometimes I don’t care enough, it depends on the season
I beat the drum often, not wanting others to forget
Not sharing in my passion, they insincerely acquiesce

Only a few things matter, yet my brain is scattered
One word of criticism, and my worth is shattered
When it comes to living, when it comes to teamwork
Everyone talks the talk, but the walk is misgiving

“We” are stronger than “I”, as long as “I” gets the credit
My humility most impressive, I’ll tell you all about it
I want the truth, desperately seeking transparency
Yet words are guarded, dishonesty flowered deceptively

I’m here for you, I’ve got your back
I believe in you, there’s nothing I lack
Unless someone disagrees, unless someone moans
Then I need to step away, I need courage on loan

A fish out of water, is a fish out of air
I have something in common, it’s something I share
Take care of my cause, take care of my needs
Then I’ll let people know, you are a wise man who leads

But leading isn’t popularity, it isn’t first to please
It isn’t taking polls, it’s not putting people at ease
It means having deep convictions, having secure beliefs
It means staying true to course, not taking relief

The hill I climb is lonely, often feeling stranded
The hill I climb is baren, often taken for granted
The hill I climb is noble, the hill I climb is inspiring
As long as it does not get in the way of your living

Females raped and murdered, where is the rage?
It seems important, but message gets back page
The church is the answer, the message of justice we bring
But the words get muted, arguing over the songs we sing

Children die before 5, $20 is the solution
My debit card is low, comfort my main concern
I have the money, but I’m keeping up with the Jones’
Car, House, Boat, busy paying off the loans’

The world needs billions, seems overwhelming
Billions would not compare, if Christians were tithing
I can’t do it all, but I can open the door
If I learn to say “No”, I can do so much more

Boys without role models, absent of fathers
They are not on my block, so why even bother
But the needs are great, the opportunities do not lack
I am the change I pray for, but my schedule is packed

Options are good, until there are too many
Poverty cries out, “I don’t have any”
America the beautiful, everyone given equal chance
Unless born in the hood, equality becomes a fat chance

More concerned about position, more about my security
My dreams are much more daring, as I live in my safety
Been told to be quiet, told “balance” is for the wise
There’s no more heroes, “well rounded” is our demise

I check my heart, I check by pride
I check my will, putting desires aside
I live in abundance, my challenges are few
When I say I have problems, I ask, “Compared to who?”

People want the world to be like them
I say, they should want the world to be like HIM
As soon as I say my theology is a lock
I have just put God right in a box

My faith is bigger than Republican or Democrat
My faith is stronger than where the world is at
Jesus created this world, then gave his life
He asks me to love this world, then give up my life

Sometimes I care too much, my ego trumps reason
Sometimes I don’t care enough, it depends on the season
But one thing I know, one thing I am sure
That loving orphans and widows is a religion that’s pure!

5 Things Every Church Should Do (Part 5)

 

 

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.

They began eliminating possibilities.

Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form.

Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.

The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.

“What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.

Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the colleagues had to agree.

The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity.

The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, the Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval.

The 5th and most foundational thing every church should do is to be a large, generous distributor of Grace.

Grace dares to make God’s love unconditional.

Grace makes it possible to start over again.

Grace makes it possible for new beginnings.

Grace makes it possible to move forward.

The Apostle Paul who once was the king of religion, experienced life transforming Grace and said, “I am still not all I should be but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…”

So many people live with hidden shame, mistakes from the past, failures of deep consequence and they seem stuck, not able to move towards the future.

I was working at a coffee shop not long ago and a gentlemen working next to me struck up a conversation and asked me what I did for a living.

I told him that I was a professional body builder, but I pastor on the side.

He believed the pastor part and told me he hadn’t been to church in years.

I asked, “What has kept you away?”

He said a divorce, a drinking problem and the way he was treated by the church when he was going through those difficult times.

He said, “I don’t really need to go somewhere and feel judged. I know I’m a screw up!”

We preceded to have an hour long conversation about Grace.

He asked me a great question. He said, “If Grace is the difference between Jesus and other religions, then why don’t churches teach it and live it?”

I told him because we haven’t made Grace the highest priority. It falls in the middle of the other many things churches try to do.

I told him that at the church I go to we teach on Grace all the time because it is so multi-faceted that you have to keep looking at it, living it, celebrating it and teaching it.

Philip Yancey writes “Grace makes its appearance in so many forms that I have trouble defining it.”

“I am ready, though, to attempt something like a definition of grace in relation to God.”

“GRACE MEANS THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO MAKE GOD LOVE US MORE—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes.”

“And GRACE MEANS THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO MAKE GOD LOVE US LESS—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder.”

“Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”

Grace is inclusive. Religion is exclusive.

In WWII, a group of soldiers were fighting in the rural countryside of France.

During an intense battle, one of the American soldiers was killed.

His comrades did not want to leave his body on the battlefield and decided to give him a church burial.

They remembered a church a few miles behind the front lines whose grounds included a small cemetery surrounded by a white fence.

After receiving permission to take their friend’s body to the cemetery, they set out for the church, arriving just before sunset.

An old priest, body betraying his many years, responded to their knocking.

His face, deeply wrinkled and tan, was the home of two fierce eyes that flashed with wisdom and passion.

“Our friend was killed in battle,” they blurted out, “and we wanted to give him a church burial.”

In very broken English the priest replied, “I’m sorry, but we can bury only those of the same faith here.”

Tired after many months of war, the soldiers simply turned to walk away. “But”, the old priest called after them, “you can bury him outside the fence.”

Cynical and exhausted, the soldiers dug a grave and buried their friend just outside the white fence. They finished after nightfall.

The next morning, the entire unit was ordered to move on, and the group raced back to the little church for one final goodbye to their friend.

When they arrived, they couldn’t find the gravesite.

Tired and confused, they knocked on the door of the church.

They asked the old priest if he knew where they had buried their friend.

A smile flashed across the old priest’s face. “After you left last night, I could not sleep, so I went outside early this morning and I moved the fence.”

JESUS DID MORE THAN MOVE THE FENCE, HE TORE IT DOWN.

RELIGION SAYS, SOME DESERVE THE INSIDE, SOME DESERVE THE OUTSIDE.

Accepting and living in Grace is the only way for us to have compassion and to see Grace in others.

Compassion means “to suffer with”, to endure with, struggle with, and to partake in hunger, nakedness, loneliness, pain, and broken dreams in the human family.

The question has been asked, “What makes a genius?”

The answer is, “The ability to see.”

To see what?

The butterfly in a caterpillar.
The eagle in an egg.
The saint in a selfish person.
Life in death.
And suffering as the form in which the incomprehensibility of God himself appears.

There has always been a debate in the church world about what is deep.

People leave churches because they are looking for something deeper.

What they usually mean is that there is not a certain version of the Bible being used, or there are not certain songs that are being sung, or there is not enough solemn judgment coming from the preacher.

What is the definition of deep? Compassion.

Because compassion means accepting Grace for yourself and seeing Grace in others.

Matthew Fox writes “Compassion is a spirituality of meat, not milk; of adults, not children; of love, not masochism; of justice, not philanthropy. It requires maturity, a big heart, a willingness to risk and imagination.”

To rephrase C.S. Lewis, religion is all around us and it has led to wars, division, judgment and death.

Religion has given God a bad name.

When a church lives in and offers Grace, people are healed, sins are forgiven, relationships strengthened and people are truly alive.

Grace gives God his name back.

Grace is the only thing the church has to offer that no one else can.

If a church wants to grow in depth and compassion, it should make Grace its #1 priority.

These are a few of my favorite verses on Grace. Share with me some of yours.

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” Acts 20:24

“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” Romans 6:14

“You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:16

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” Luke 14:12-14

“Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!” 2 Samuel 9:7

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.