Gently. Did we forget that part?

Almost monthly, I receive an email, text message or phone call from someone, somewhere dealing with the fallout of being “caught” in a sin. Sometimes it’s the guilty party reaching out to me personally. Other times it’s the ones who have done the catching. In all cases, trust is broken, lives are damaged, hearts are hurting and the person on the other end of the phone needs help or a healthy dose of hope, stat.

I used to be surprised by the caller’s admission or heartbreaking tale. Given my personal understanding of the human heart, our propensity for trouble, and the staggering number of poor choices in our current culture – nothing really shocks me anymore. What actually surprises me more than anything is how others treat those who have fallen, especially in the church.

Not the actual car, but that’s what it looked like.

Years ago, driving home late one night, I glanced at my rear view mirror and saw a plume of white smoke off the side of the road I had just passed.  I realized quickly that something must have happened in the 30 seconds since I drove by.  Curiosity got the best of me and I turned around to find myself as the first person on the scene of a really bad accident.  The car, driven by bikini-wearing college female, had gone off the side of the road and into a formidable tree. When I got to her, she was slumped over the steering wheel, moaning, badly injured.  Windshield glass was all over the front seat.  Music from her car radio was blaring.  Smoke was pouring out from under her crumpled hood.  It reminded me of a movie scene where you had mere seconds to get the person out of the vehicle before the car blew up.  The whole moment was surreal and moving in slow motion.  As I was trying to figure out what happened and how to help her, one smell was undeniable:


She was driving drunk!  How dare she!

I stopped helping her and instinctively began to interrogate her:

“Were you drinking?”, I asked.

“How could you drink and drive!?  Don’t you know how dangerous this is?!  Or that it’s illegal??”

She said nothing, just moaned.

I continued, “I hope you are happy with yourself. You could have killed someone! Or yourself!  Or me!”

She ignored my litany of anger.

“You do realize you are going to jail, right?”

No response.   Just more silence.

I would tell you the rest of our conversation except I can’t.  It never happened.

Don’t get me wrong, the crash was real.

So was the girl, her bikini, the smoking car and her injuries.

But the conversation never happened.

How could it?  She wasn’t in any condition to talk and I wasn’t sure if she had suffered life threatening injuries.  My primary concern was to get her safely out of the car in case it blew up.  (It didn’t)

I have thought about that crash and that girl several times over the last 30 years and wondered what happened to her.  I trust she recovered and learned whatever lessons she needed to from that experience.

But her crash reminded me of another crash I heard about last week, when another reckless driver drove his life off the side of the road.  He wasn’t in a physical car, just a metaphorical one. Instead of hitting a tree, he hit the reality of losing his marriage. Alcohol wasn’t his downfall, an affair was. The injuries he sustained were not physical – just emotional and mental and spiritual and social and financial and…threatening life as he knew it.  His marital car is about to blow.

Two car wrecks.  Two wrecked lives.  Two different causes of their consequences.

If you were to ask the girl if she received help or support immediately following her wreck, she would tell you yes.  Lots of it.  After I arrived, three more cars stopped to help me.  Followed by a couple of police officers, a firetruck and one ambulance.  By the time I left the scene, after 1:00 am, she was in good hands and stable.

I asked the man how his church has responded to his wrecked life. His answer, though disappointing, was not surprising.  Very few have reached out to him.  His wife was triaged and has received a ton of support (as she should!)… but as for him, he’s been largely left to help himself out of the mangled mess.

There seems to be a big difference in how we treat those with physical injuries versus those who suffer from moral ones.  When someone is physically injured, we run to their aid instantly, even if they were drunk driving. We don’t hold back assistance or support, even if their injuries were self-inflicted.  Why?

If you’ve ever committed major league sins around minor league sinners, you know what I’m talking about.  The following seems to get hurled your direction, post-haste:

  • Judgment.
  • Condemnation.
  • Shame.
  • Guilt.
  • Ostracizing.
  • Excommunication.
  • Shunning.
  • Gossip.
  • Silence.

Why?  Why do we run to help someone who falls physically but seemingly walk (or crawl) to help the one who fell morally?  Do we value our skin over our soul?  Our physical well-being over our emotional one?


The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue when writing to the church in Galatia.  He addresses his letter to fellow believers and gives them explicit instructions on how to deal with someone who has driven their moral chariot off the road:

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2-3)

What is your response when you see a stranger suffer a physical injury?

What is your response when you see a friend suffer a moral one?

Listen, the truth is – sometimes we drive our perfectly good vehicles off the road and into trees? Why?

Because we are “caught” in a sin.

That night, the girl drank too much beer.  Another man might look at too much porn.  The homeless Vet abuses too much heroin.  The embezzler takes too much money.  The glutton eats too much food.  I’m not justifying their behavior or condoning their choices as much as I’m saying – these people need our help and support, just as much as those who have sustained a physical injury.

If we are willing to rush towards a physically injured stranger and offer assistance without judgment, why can’t we do the same for someone injured morally in our church?


Paul is reminding his church, those who live by the Spirit… that they need to do four things:

  1. Restore that person.
  2. Restore them gently.
  3. Watch themselves in the process.
  4. Carry each other’s burdens.

Did you see his reason why?  Because doing THOSE four things “fulfills the law of Christ”.

The next time you hear of someone who has driven their moral car into a tree,

Call them.

Visit them.

Hug them.

Restore them.


And do it gently…..


And watch yourself in the process because your car could crash there too.

Please don’t step on my blue suede shoes…

blue suede shoesMy foot hurts.

To be exact, the third toe on my right foot is hurting.

Somehow I got a small cut on it and both my sock and shoe keep rubbing against it.  In fact, I discovered today that I cannot even walk normal because of it.  I kind of have this hunchback of Notre Dame gait.   No wonder women are bringing their children in closer as I hobble by them.  “Mommy, why is that man walking like that?”    Ugh.

I was walking out of a store last night, every step a painful one and some guy walking in looked at me with odd compassion.  He never said a word but he looked at me like I was a wounded warrior.  Perhaps he thought I was injured in Desert Storm?  Or maybe he thought I suffered a career ending sports injury?   Or that I permanently damaged my leg after heroically pulling a small child out of a burning house?


I merely have a teeny, weeny baby cut on my 3rd toe.  Who would have thought that such a little injury could impact the rest of my body so much?

Now that I’m home with my shoes off and feet kicked up, I’m pondering a few things about this underwhelming injury.

The smallest cut still hurts. I cannot overemphasize how ridiculously small this cut is.  Even so, IT HURTS!  However, a physical cut will eventually heal but what about the verbal cuts we give to others each day?   We toss a verbal dart at a co-worker.  We use biting sarcasm with our spouse.   Maybe you speak in curt, annoyed tones with your parents.  Or yell at your kids?  We might even say what we say teasingly or jokingly but others can receive it seriously and personally.  I still remember with vivid clarity some choice words said to me by various people over the years.  The nursery rhyme promises, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me.”   We all know this is a lie.    No matter how small, words can still hurt and leave a permanent bruise.

Every part of the body is important. I am not sure what role my third toe plays.  Some of my other toes have been given names like “Big toe” or “pinky toe”. So insignificant is this one that I had to assign a number to it just so you could know which one I was talking about. To my knowledge, it can’t do anything spectacular.  I can’t move it independently of the other toes.   It doesn’t give me any athletic edge (that I know of).  No one ever compliments it when I’m, say, at the beach.  “Wow, you have a handsome third toe.”   In the 43 years that it has been with me, I don’t recall ever giving it any thought – until tonight.  But cut the little sucker open and all of a sudden I’m thinking it plays a much more important role than I ever thought. I can’t even walk normal because that little #3 is hurting. It’s affecting my body more than I ever thought possible.

This makes me wonder how many #3 toes are in my life.  How many people are a part of my “body” that I barely give any thought to – until I’m forced to?  Do I know the name of the janitor at work?  Do I know the family background of the woman who does the menial tasks at the office?  Do I give eye contact to the teenager at the check-out counter of the grocery store or even address this person by name?  Though these people may not be a part of my family or in my friendship circle, they are a part of my life – my daily body.   And I’m realizing that every part of the body is important – even those who play (like #3 toe) an unseen role.

If one part suffers, all suffer with it. If you were to ask me how I’m doing tonight (and I felt like complaining), I would say I’m in pain.  But isn’t that interesting? Technically, only my one dinky toe hurts but that somehow affects my whole outlook.  All that tells me is that the way a body works, if one part suffers, all suffer with it.   My hands might be having a great day but does it really matter if I can barely walk?   How important is a great hair day if my bad breath could stop an attacking bear?

So, who in your “body” is suffering today?  Do you feel it?  Is there a friend that needs some of your attention?  Is there a troubled teen that needs your time? Is there a single mom not able to pay her rent and needs your money? Is there an elderly widow who is lonely this time of year and needs your hug?  Do you know someone who merely needs your ear?  There are parts of the body that are suffering out there, the question is do you notice it?   More importantly, do you even care?

I got a phone call this weekend from a man I have not talked to in over 18 years.   We were good friends in high school – communicated briefly in our 20’s and then that relationship went dormant for the last 18 years.  We didn’t have a “falling out.”  There was no broken relationship – we just simply fell out of touch.   In that time, lots can happen.   For me, it was college, marriage, kids, divorce, moving, unemployment, jail, etc.

Out of “the blue” I received a phone call.   It turns out, he heard through the grapevine, that I had a rough 2013 (understatement).  So rough that he felt compelled to break the nearly two decade silence and reach out to me.  In many ways and at no fault of his own, I became a #3 toe in his life.  Easily hidden.  Unnoticeable.  Adding little to no value to his daily life.   Merely a small, distant part of his childhood memories.  And yet, he heard that I was hurting and could not ignore that fact.  He invested the time to track me down and took 67 minutes out of his family schedule to find out how I’m really doing.  At the end of the conversation, he asked how he could help me in my diminished state.  If you’ve ever been a “number 3 toe”, words cannot express how it feels to be treated with “Big Toe” status.

Next time you think there are people in your life that you do not need, think again. It is not accidental that you were placed in your family, your school, your plot of land, or your workplace.  There is a reason you shop at your particular grocery store, get your clothes from that department store and get gasoline at that specific gas station.  The plumber, mechanic, dentist, and barista are in your life for a reason and it may not just be because of your toilet, transmission, cavity or coffee.  There is a reason you are in relationships with those in your sphere of influence. If the other toes in your world are rejoicing, rejoice. If one of them is suffering, figure out what your role is in helping them.  You make up a body and the body is only truly healthy if every member is healthy too.

As for me, do me a favor… please don’t step on my blue suede shoes.  My #3 toe would appreciate it. 🙂

I Corinthians 12:14-27
For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

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Living life with radar on and antennae up

Earlier this week I boarded a Greyhound bus heading from Charlotte, NC to Philadelphia, PA.   Surprisingly, it was my first time ever traveling on a commercial bus that wasn’t part of a guided tour.   Since I love all forms of travel, I figured I would embrace the Greyhound experience.  The Express bus had extra leg room, free Wi-fi and the ability to plug in a laptop.  I can’t even do that on a plane!  Like most stations and terminals, it also its share of interesting people to look at.   Every age, every color, every shape and size were there to board the bus along with me.

Over the years I have become a professional people watcher.  That is, unless you define “professional” as getting paid.  No one has given me money (yet) to do this.  “Where on the East Coast was everyone going?” I wondered.  “Why is that lady wearing THAT outfit?”  “That man looks sad, I wonder why?”  As curious as I was, I was also very tired and did not feel like talking to anyone.  If I’m on the road and want to talk to others, I generally carry a magazine. A magazine tells others, “I’m reading but it’s not important so you can interrupt me anytime you want.”   By contrast, if I am traveling and wish to be left alone, I will bring out my Bible.  No one talks to you if you have an open Bible in fear that they might be the target of your next conversion.  It’s like carrying a loaded weapon. Anyone sitting near you is afraid it will be aimed at them.

At a layover in Richmond, I found myself continuing my hobby of people watching.  I noticed a young Japanese girl with a huge red bag walking around somewhat aimlessly.  It was clear she was new to our country and unfamiliar with our stations.  As I walked past her, she asked me a question about her ticket and destination.  It turns out we were both ending our trip in Philadelphia.  With her question answered, she went to the station’s in-house restaurant.  I went back to people watching.  About 30 minutes later, we boarded the bus.   As Providence would have it, we ended up sitting next to each other and for the next five hours we engaged in conversation about her country, Hiroshima (her home town), World War II, the Olympics, family, Google Translate, blogging, religion and Cinnabons.

As we exchanged contact information at our destination and said our goodbyes, I realized something.  I thought I was taking a bus from Charlotte to Philadelphia.  Actually, I was forming a new friendship.  The bus was merely the setting.  I had a one dimensional goal in travel – get to Philadelphia.  Apparently, God had two.  I could have driven my own car to Philadelphia.  I could have taken a plane or train.  But I didn’t.  I took a bus.  And on that specific day (Tuesday, July 31st) in that specific city (Richmond, VA) on that specific bus (GLI 3014) at that specific time (9:15am) entered a specific stranger (Kyoko) who would decide to sit in a specific seat next to specific me.

What would have happened had I not had my “antennae” up or had I been closed to a conversation with a stranger?  What if I was in ipod-land or sleeping or too engrossed in a book to notice a visitor to our country?  I would have missed out on getting to know a fascinating person and making a new international friend.  This specific moment in time, I was paying attention.  But I wonder – how many moments a day do I miss because my antennae is down?  How many moments do you miss because your radar is tuned to you and not to others?

There are people (strangers, friends and family) all around us that are in need of something and oftentimes we have the ability to personally meet that need.  The question is, are we willing to do so?  How many people in your life are lonely and need your friendship now more than ever?  A simple phone call, email or an invite for coffee could be all the salve they need for their current hurt.  How many people in your life need to borrow some money this month because they can’t keep their electric bill on during these tough economic times?  How many single Moms need help with the children since they can’t “find enough hours in the day to do all that they have to do?”  How many married couples desperately need a free babysitter so they can go on a long overdue date to keep their struggling marriage together?  How many elderly neighbors need someone to clean their gutters or do their yard work since they can’t physically do the work themselves?   How many Pastors need a letter from a member of their congregation saying they appreciate their often thankless work?  How many employees need a “Good job!  I notice what you do!” comment from their boss?   Whether its money or services or talents or time or encouragement, everyone possesses something that can benefit others.

The reality is simple.  If you have some extra time, you need to figure out how you can give it to benefit another.  If you have some extra money, you should find a way to get it in the hands of someone who desperately needs it.  If you have a certain gift or talent, you need to ask yourself, “Where can I best use this today?”   If you have an extra car, maybe someone needs to borrow it.  If you have leftovers, maybe there is a single person down the street who would love a home cooked meal, even if that meal has been cooked twice?  Daily bread is meant for us – to meet our needs.  Abundance of bread is meant for others – to meet their needs.

When you read the Gospels, you see the Example of a Man who lived His entire life with His radar on and antennae up.  Jesus was never en route to somewhere without being aware of people and their many needs.  On His way to Jerusalem (to be killed) He healed two blind men (Matthew 20).  Even from the cross, barely able to breathe, He made sure someone would be there to look after His mother once He was gone (John 19).  He never ran errands interrupted by people.  People were His errands and every movement He made was for them.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is referenced above where Jesus heals the two blind men.  Mark chapter 10 tells us that one of them is named Bartimaeus.  We are told that Jesus was leaving the town of Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd was following Him.  If you have ever been in the center of a large crowd, you will know two things to be true:

  1. You do not notice much beyond your immediate personal space.
  2. You can only hear what is being said by those closest to you.

Unless, of course, you have your radar on and antennae up.   As Jesus was walking along, He heard someone calling to Him over the noise of the crowd.  Initially the men were told by others to be quiet.  Ignoring them, they continued to yell louder and louder.  Jesus called the men to Himself and asked them an unthinkable question.   It’s a question that a subject asks a King.  It’s a question that a slave asks his master.  It’s a question that a child asks his parent.  It is certainly not a question that God should ask a man.   The question was simply,

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

What a powerful question.  What an opportunity!  The God of the Universe is asking blind beggars what He can do for them.  Jesus is not oblivious to the men’s obvious need.  Jesus wasn’t asking because He didn’t know the answer.   It was merely a lesson for them (and us) on prayer and faith.   You ask God in prayer and believe with faith.

That question leads me to two thoughts.

  1. What if God asked you today, “What do you want me to do for you?”, how would you answer Him?   What is your life missing?   What does your faith lack?   God still asks the same question to blind beggars today.  Before He grants sight, you have to recognize your blindness and you need to ask by faith.   Maybe that is why we are still blind in so many areas of our life?  We are too stubborn to admit it or too proud to ask.
  2. What would happen if you made it a habit to ask that same question to someone else every day?   How could that radically impact someone’s life?  Honestly, I think it would radically change yours.

With your radar on you will see an entirely different world today.  When your antennae is up, you will see the needs of those around you like never before.   Not everyone’s needs are physical or financial.  Some are emotional and spiritual, but very real nonetheless.  You need to open your eyes and start asking the question.

What if God placed you in that particular cubicle at work to meet the needs of co-workers?  Maybe you live on your specific street, not because it’s your dream house, but because you have blind neighbors that need to see.   What if God put you in that particular seat on the plane to help heal a fellow passengers sight?   What if life isn’t about the travel or the house or the paycheck?   What if it is supposed to be about meeting the needs of others?

What if today was supposed to be about helping blind men see?  Is your radar on and antennae up?

***** Below is a picture of my new friend, enjoying a Cinnabon treat that I gave her.   On her Facebook page she wrote afterward, “My new American friend gave me happiness!  Best cinnamon roll in America!”