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.”

Where is Jesus?

During the week before his death, Jesus said these words, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

As I am reading this I am wondering what kind of criteria is he going to use to separate them? Is it church attendance? Tithing? Correct theology? Abstaining from evil? The right political affiliation? Abstinence? I wonder what it will be?

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

Really!!? When I was growing up in church I was told I was making it to heaven by staying away from bad people and bad things.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Wait a minute! You mean to tell me that is where I could have hung out with Jesus! I was told you meet Jesus through a really cool church service or worship song. I realize now that Jesus was all around me, I just didn’t recognize him.

Ken and C. J. have been married for many years. They live and run a deli in Bodega Bay. Bodega Bay has one homeless man, a man named Garland. Garland dressed poorly and acted a little strange and slept in the city park. But being Christians, Ken and C.J. befriended Garland and offered him food and kind words.

When their store was broken into everyone in town accused Garland. But Ken and C.J. knew it couldn’t have been their friend. In fact, they prepared a very expensive gift basket for Garland and gave it to him. The next morning the police showed up with Garland, who was holding the expensive gift basket, certain they had caught the burglar of their store.

Ken and C.J. to protect Garland from embarrassment said, “Oh, Garland! Thank you for bringing your basket back. We forgot to put some things in it we wanted you to have. And by the way, here’s the change I forgot to give you.” And Ken made up a number. In front of the police he opened the cash register and gave Garland $38.67. The police let Garland go without saying a word.

A few mornings later Garland died in the park in his sleep. Ken and C.J. were called to the attorney’s office. They were told that Garland had made them the sole heir in his will. He wrote “The entire contents of my travel bag are
yours.”

Inside the bag was a bag of birdseed, a Bible and a bankbook. The names on the savings account were Garland and Ken and C.J. The last entry in the savings account was the day before for $38.67 bringing the balance to well over three million dollars.

The bankbook had been used as a bookmarker in the Bible. Garland had put it in a unique place and the Bible lay open to Matthew 25:35 and the verse was underlined. “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home and you invited me into your house. Jesus said, ‘When you did it for the least of these My people, you also did it for Me.'”

Garland had hidden wealth that nobody knew about.
When Jesus Christ hung on the cross very few of those standing there knew how wealthy He was.
He was God. He was the creator of the universe and He owned everything.
We have a hidden wealth and power that many times we underestimate.

Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah when he gave his mission statement, “The Spirit of the Lord is with me. He has anointed me to tell the Good News to the poor. To heal those who are brokenhearted. He has sent me to announce forgiveness to the prisoners of sin and the restoring of sight to the blind, to forgive those who have been shattered by sin, to announce the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Where is Jesus?

He’s the homeless person looking for shelter.
She’s the abused mom who is looking for safety.
He’s the dying aids patient looking for someone to care.
She’s the prostitute who is begging for intimacy.
He’s your co-worker who’s depressed.
She’s the mother from Niger wondering how she is going to feed her 3 children.
It is the forgotten widow barely getting by on her social security check.
It is your neighbor who is facing bankruptcy and losing his home.
It is the elementary student who was abandoned by his father.
It is the drug addict looking for another fix.
It is the foreigner who faces another day of prejudice.
It is the Garland that leaves you 3 million and 38 dollars and 67 cents.

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.”

Author and Speaker Tony Campolo says “Jesus never says to the poor come find the church. But he says to those of us in the church, go into the world and find the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the imprisoned.”