Excerpt from Kenny’s book, Dream. Available here.
The Velvet Touch
Jesus crashed the mental hard-drives of “religious” men.
A big reason why their spiritual processors could not run the Jesus application was because he made a habit of connecting with sexually immoral, physically unclean, and non-Jewish people. He broke their rules about first and second class citizens and he was not acting very “righteous” in his associations. This practice put them into spiritual vertigo: dizzy, destabilized, and desperately trying to make sense of him. The ease with which he floated from the Temple, to the country side, to synagogue, and, then, to the “sinners” district raised eyebrows and ignited plenty of gossip. His credibility as a spiritual leader was eroded by these dubious junkets. The Father, on the other hand, was rejoicing saying, “That’s the way Son! Exactly!” God’s Son was moving the Kingdom forward not just in shady back alleys of first century Palestine but also in every other place where those starving for acceptance were found. The lost were being found while the “found” just got more lost.
LATTER DAY LEPER
John Forbes’ dad drank. If you are the son of an alcoholic, like me, you know that his dad was probably closer with the local liquor store owners and bartenders than with his son. John emotionally pursued his dad for years but that was like chasing the wind—always elusive and ultimately disappointing. He was a ghost. As the years passed by little John grew into a bigger, man-size John. Now he had a man size body, man size issues, man size responsibilities and a man size hole left in his heart. This wound acted like a black hole—sucking every atom of attention and affirmation within its gravitational pull inside a void that could never be filled by any person. The little boy heart inside that big body was seeking to answer one question: am I worthy of love? He searched in vain for the eyes of his dad to help answer that question but they never locked. This unfulfilled longing, this unanswered question would eventually be filled by other men: ones who would accept and affirm; ones who would physically touch; ones who would give him their time and talk; ones who couldn’t wait to see him come through the door. They were not his dad but they were there to fill the hole—temporarily. Other men fill their “soul hole” with other things—the vice doesn’t matter as long as it assuages the loss.
John became a follower of Jesus Christ in the middle of this emotional and sexual malaise. The lost boy was found. New hope invaded his soul. The highest of these hopes included being able to deal directly with a broken sexual identity, engage in his new spiritual journey effectively, and invest his energies positively for Christ. Great strides were made in these regards but it would always be tempered by the lying voice inside of him which seized John’s mind when traveling the rockier roads of his life. This inner liar (the old John) would lay out a succulent feast of indulgences during seasons of emotional famine that were hard to resist. John fought the urges, life would overwhelm, and the voices inside and out would press harder. Slowly and steadily, Old John began to prevail, quickly eroding away his eight years of following Christ, his new convictions, and his first love. John said “okay” to the voices. But instead of finding what he was looking for, he found crushing spiritual doubt and self loathing. In his own words, “I thought Jesus could deliver me from a homosexual life! What does that mean?” Answer from Satan: “you were never delivered. That’s who you are.”
The next three years were a personal spiritual Vietnam for John Forbes.
- Christian friends were sympathetic but afraid, unhelpful, or resentful toward his struggle. This reaction created even more spiritual disillusionment and doubt.
- Pastors could not engage Him meaningfully. Instead they yielded to fear, quick fixes, ambivalence, and eventually, avoidance.
- Isolated and alienated from the Body of Christ, John’s inner vulnerabilities and insecurities grew more powerful.
- Rational-lies previously rejected were now strongly considered and spun into justifications and entitlements to dive into sin.
- Opportunities knocked.
The polluted reasoning this emotional cocktail manufactured led to a full embrace of the “old John.” He found himself standing in front of a wardrobe closet he thought he would never re-enter. John Forbes was going to put on “the old self and its practices” just like it talks about in the Bible. His exodus was over, he was going back to Egypt. The old identities were put on, the old loyalties were accommodated, the old relationships were sought, and the old behaviors revisited. Even though these old clothes did not fit or feel the same as they once had, they were familiar if not friendly enough for spans of time. It would be a season of kicks accessorized by alcohol, cocaine, and homosexual liaisons but this go around there was no freedom in it. John was free to engage these pursuits but deep down he knew they represented a default existence produced by his spiritual desperations. This reality was denied hundreds of times, in hundreds of moments, amidst thousands of thoughts over the next eight years until the season of kicks was met by the ultimate kick-back.
YOU ARE DIRTY
In addition to feeling far beyond the borders of God’s grace after eight years back in his Egypt, John started feeling ill. The unrelenting flu-like symptoms, chronic fatigue and, finally, blood in his urine landed him in an examination room sitting on the proverbial doctor’s bench covered with disposable white paper. Sitting in that room was a stark contrast to the new life the “old John” was able to rebuild. For a man so privately fragmented and empty, New York, Europe, prestigious work in theatre, influence, affluence, and buckets of affirmation gave John the appearance of very “together.” At this moment, however, the public image stood in stark contrast to the sterile reality in front of him: he was waiting for his fate to walk through the door. Then the door handled twisted.
“Mr. Forbes, I am sorry to inform you that you have tested positive for HIV.”
Huh? Like a shell-shocked soldier trying to regain his senses after being knocked over by the force of an exploding bomb, John could not hear, think, or feel. The doctor’s lips kept right on moving but the rippling vertigo prevented him from assimilating any more of his crushing medical assessment. Numbing minutes passed until, finally, a work related impulse snapped John out of his anesthetized state. He needed to get to work! Visit over, he exited the building into the streets of Manhattan one hundred and fifty dollars poorer—the going price for his sickening dose of reality. “Thank you?” He closed his check book and wandered the streets of his city. He began to sob. Crushing thought after crushing thought came: “the Lord is punishing me.” Then, “how did it come to this?” His life had become a spiritual satire.
In the days following his diagnosis day, attempts were made to reconnect with God, church, and with Christians. His own insecurities over telling people combined with awkward responses served only to further exacerbate the pain. Christ followers were dishing up:
- active judgment
- passive hostility
- visible discomfort
- phobic behavior
- tense and stilted embraces
- a unified message: “You are dirty.”
His worst fears were being realized. The clear rejection magnified a crushing sense of regret, helplessness, and growing insignificance. Where now? John did the math: dirty meant untouchable. Untouchable meant unlovable. Unlovable meant worthless. Worthless meant his life didn’t matter. If his life didn’t matter, he might as well throw it away. And he did—binging on cocaine, crack and alcohol for days at a time. Why not?
If I am “dirty” then I might as well start acting like it.
The end of the story is much brighter. Although God’s people rejected John, Jesus did not. And through a personal encounter with the living Christ, his doubts, fears, shame, and ugliness were overcome and overwhelmed by divine acceptance. Listen to how Jesus engages “Dirty.”
“In a moment of revelation I saw the Lord on his throne and me approaching him. I just began to weep. I became aware of God’s love at that moment. Not with head knowledge but an incredible sense of his presence. It overwhelmed me. I could not stop crying. God is really gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love—he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. After all I had done, I was still met with mercy. Since developing AIDS and that encounter with the Lord, things have radically turned around for me. The Lord has firmly established me in his truth and love. I am growing in grace and the knowledge of that love. He took an alcoholic drug addict with AIDS and opened up opportunities to share his love all over the world ” (5)
(From the article ‘I Hope My Journey with AIDS Touches Your Heart written by John Forbes posted on purposedrivenlife.com)
Jesus engaged “Dirty” with velvety grace—the soft and comforting feeling of his acceptance. He blanketed the shame, overlooked the ugliness and smell, and utterly conquered the stigma and vice with his presence. He eliminated the possibility of rejection instead of projecting it. He eradicated the possibility of disqualification and replaced it with participation. He obliterated the need to keep secrets and hide. The failures of men were replaced by unfailing love—full rejection replaced by full acceptance. That’s what Jesus does with a HIV positive man in America. It’s what we would expect to hear. It would layer nicely into Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. It preaches well but it should not sit well with our souls the same way the Parable of the Good Samaritan disturbed the religious guys in Jesus day. He deliberately placed “spiritual” men (a priest and a Levite) in the story to “out” them for being bankrupt as God’s men! Similarly, John’s story confronts every one who “plays” spiritual. John was in theatre and the players (us) dressed in “Christian” but were not acting like Jesus at all. Jesus thrived with “Dirty” and the ragamuffins of his culture. I am not sure we do but that excuses no man.
Why is it that so much is said about grace but so very few of us know how to give it away like Christ did to John? A simple presence, an embrace, and a transforming acceptance that moves the prodigals back in the right direction. Instead of having a soft spot for sinners like Jesus, we are terrified of them. Generally speaking the message we send to those outside the club is this: the saints don’t need the sinners. It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t feel the same. “The son of man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners,’” (Matthew 11:19 NIV). The only times we see Jesus build a wall with people was when their pride had blinded them to the reality of their own need. In those rare instances, he traded in the velvety touch of his grace for the steel hammer of truth, authority, and accountability.
His critics accused Jesus of being comfortable with sinners. If they said that about Christ and Christ lives in you, then it makes sense to assume that Christ followers should be good at this. What exactly is this again? Being expressive agents of God’s grace; allowing the Holy Spirit to use us to help others feel acceptance by God; and having the faith and courage to affirm people apart from their sin as those worthy of the Father’s love. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth,” (John 1:14 NIV). Jesus was an ambassador of the grace of God. We cannot compartmentalize this most radical and transforming aspect of Jesus’ character away from our journey as God’s man. Jesus is good at being generously accepting. His unequivocal desire is that he wants his men to be good at it too.
To hear more from Kenny on this topic check out Comeback Story
KENNY LUCK is an ECPA Platinum Award Winning Author, who has authored and co-authored 20 books for men. Kenny is the president and founder of Every Man Ministries. As the former men’s pastor at Saddleback Church in California and current leadership pastor at Crossline Community Church, Kenny has found the proven way to improve men’s ministries around the world. Sleeping Giant is this blueprint, and gives men the tools they need to lead and understand their own men’s ministry. Watch Kenny’s teachings at EveryManMinistries.com and start your men’s group today!