Medaling in Madagascar.

My friend and favorite superhero Bob Goff is a creative genius when it comes to loving people like Jesus. His gift is stopping to notice other humans in a way that makes them believe they matter.

For example, Bob travels to Uganda with his pockets stuffed with medals, so he can pin them on former LRA child soldiers, and say: “You are unimaginably important,” and make them believe it.

Bob Goff is the reason 160 foster kids in Madagascar are wearing medals around their necks today.

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In the extravagant, inefficient, upside down Kingdom of God, this is how love does:

A couple of years ago, I met Bob in Los Angeles. Probably like a million other people, I picked up the phone and dialed his number, which, like a lunatic, he listed in the back of of his NYT Bestseller Love Does. To my great surprise, he answered, and then squeezed me into his already tight schedule. Sitting in a cafe at Pepperdine University, Bob looked at me and said, in the most literal way possible, “how can I help YOU?”

I mean really, who does that?

At that time, I knew Bob had negotiated with the publisher of Love Does for an advance that would cover the construction of a school for former child soldiers in Gulu, Uganda. I also knew that he gave 100% of the proceeds from Love Does away. I’m sure that’s some of the reason there are more than 300 students there today.

What I didn’t know was, every time he goes to Uganda, he brings little, pin-on, military-style medals. So when he’s talking to a teenage boy, who was abducted then conscripted into a life of violence and depravity, he can pin one on him and say: God sees you and you are precious to Him.

You can’t imagine how many people need to hear that, and not just child soldiers.

So a couple of months ago in Texas, my colleagues and I were discussing how, in two-weeks time, anybody can reasonably expect to impact a bunch of neglected and abused girls in Madagascar. Ridiculous really – a total fools errand.

IMG_5078“We ought to take them swimming,” my partner said.

“Yah, and pin some medals on them.”

Sometimes when a thought bypasses my brain on it’s way out my mouth like that, I think God’s behind it.

I spent hours on-line looking for the kind of medals I imagined Bob was pinning on kids in Uganda, but I couldn’t find them. So I called my friend Kim, who owns Hometown Trophy and T’s – a mom and pop trophy shop in my town. I explained what I was doing and since she’s read Love Does, she said, “Yep, got it. Let me call you right back.”

Ten minutes later, her daughter Lindsey called and showed me, not a pin-on medal but a heavy Olympic-style medal with a crown on it. She offered to string a ribbon on it that matches the Malagasy flag and asked if we wanted anything inscribed on the back. Sure! Can you write beloved, chosen, precious, courageous and overcomer on them?

“You bet,” she said. Then she donated them – All 200 medals.

DSC01369It had been a hard, discouraging week in Texas. One where you think any second the alarm will sound, so the real player, the one who isn’t incompetent at your job, can step in and take over. As I’ve said before, sometimes I forget this thing I do isn’t all on me. 

The day Lindsey and Billy delivered those medals to Mercy Ships, I held one in my hand for a very long time. I turned it over and over and read the word Beloved engraved on the back.

The end of the story is this:

After Madagascar’s wildest pizza party, we had 35 medals left. Akany Avoko employs 40 staff.

The next day we walked back up the hill to Akany with 35 medals in my backpack, hoping for a solution to the obvious problem. I told Director Lalasoa, how much we wanted to give her staff those medals but we couldn’t imagine which five people would not get one.

“Wait, you have 35 medals in your bag?” she said.

“Yes.”

“I have five left over from last night, just sitting on my desk.”

“What? You have five medals sitting on your desk?”

“Yes.”

For those of you bad at math, that’s 40. Later that week, Lalasoa called her staff together, thanked them for their hearts and hung medals around their necks.

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What Is Love Dinner?

“When you learn everything about somebody without actually doing things with them, there’s a name for that – it’s called stalking.  I don’t want to stalk Jesus anymore.”

-Bob Goff, author of NYT Bestseller Love Does.

Every Thursday morning, Bob Goff and a few of his buddies meet for breakfast – they have for years. They eat pancakes, talk about their lives and pray for each other. Before they leave, they pick one scripture from the Bible and commit to doing it all week. The next week, they tell each other what happened.

They don’t call it Bible study. They call it Bible doing. After all, the scriptures say, don’t just be hearers of the word, be doers. In other words, be lovers not stalkers.

Love Dinner is a Bible doing.

ldEvery month, six to eight of us gather around my dining room table. We light candles, eat, sigh, take off our masks and get down to the way things are. Once we’ve prayed all of it right to the feet of Jesus, we take the focus off ourselves and level it on those around us, leaning in to Jesus’ second major command – Love your neighbor as yourself.

Simple.

Papa Don Stephens, founder of Mercy Ships, knows a thing or two about loving God and loving others. He told a story yesterday, from his recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, that’s a perfect example.

He was in Kinshasa for a national prayer breakfast with a number of important heads of state. The day before he was speaking at a seminar about what bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor looks like for Mercy Ships.

As Don spoke about the facial tumors our surgeons remove, freeing people from terrible deformity, rejection and sometimes death, (you can watch a 60 Minutes segment about that here) someone in the crowd raised their hand.

That person mentioned a local police officer in Kinshasa who suffers with one of those tumors. The man is known around town as “the honest policeman.” From the podium, Don asked the attendees, mostly local, to raise their hands if they knew this man. Many did.

Don said he could feel the Holy Spirit reminding him how Jesus healed people – one by one, picking them out of crowds. The problem is, the ship is on the other side of the African continent now, in Madagascar. Don explained this and asked the crowd. What can we do?

Photo Credit: Justine Forrest

Photo Credit: Justine Forrest

People reached into their pockets and together pooled $1100 to fly the honest policeman to the Africa Mercy, so our volunteer plastic surgeons can remove his tumor. This wasn’t a seminar in Dallas mind you. This was in Kinshasa, capital city of the nation which, on the Human Development index, ranks second to last on earth.

Don called it a miracle.

People love stories like this because they are conceivable – we can imagine ourselves living them.

Most of us want to live a better story, one wherein we gain the deep satisfaction that comes only through loving other people more. It’s an amazing thing to link arms with strangers to perform some small kindness that sends shock waves through a family in Kinshasa, and ripples through eternity.

And that’s exactly what Love Dinner is for. It’s a platform from which we can dive headlong into the radical lives Jesus died for us to live. And it’s fine if our initial steps are small.

Starting Love Dinner was a small step I took 100% out of trust and obedience, because I felt like God was saying: Answer the question “what is there to do?” and “How do I do it.”

Don Stephens has been doing this for decades, he’s a pro. That’s why I know, someday, I’m going to hear a story from the Africa Mercy about a policeman from Kinshasa – a man who knows in his bones that God sees him and loves him.

And when it happens, I promise to tell you all about it.


Want to do Love Dinner with us? Comment below.

Christians Be Nice.

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Over the weekend, I was chatting with a woman from San Francisco, whom I’ll call Meg. We were talking books at the Storyline Conference and she asked what mine was about. I told her what I tell everyone:

“I write about Jesus for the urban, liberal skeptic and all the people who are so irate at the church they won’t even consider Jesus a remedy for loneliness, depression, fear and anxiety.

Meg leaned into me, lowered her voice and said:

“I’m not sure how I feel about the Jesus thing, but do you think everyone here is a Republican?”

“No, I don’t,” I said laughing. “But that is a brilliant question.”

The Storyline Conference is hosted by a bunch of Jesus-guys from Nashville and Portland. You know, the guys in skinny jeans, Rag and Bone boots and Ray Ban reading glasses who know how to use their Macs really well. It’s them and about 1,700 other writers and artists from all over the country.

Meg admitted to being well-embraced by the Storyline community (good job Jesus-guys!) but I think she wondered, since she votes a certain way, if she would be embraced by Jesus himself.

HOLY CRAP HOUSTON THAT’S A PROBLEM! But in lieu of the inevitable finger-pointing let me say, I care less where the perception comes from, and more about combating it.

Christian friends listen for a second – Do you know how many people like Meg are reluctant to ask about Jesus because they don’t want to argue about gay marriage and abortion in the coffee line?

Do you know how many people “in the world” are starving for something to hope for, who would take a running leap into the arms of Jesus if they could hear what he said without all the commentary?

We have this incredible privilege to introduce people to Jesus just by being nice to them, but for some it has become, not just culturally acceptable, but mission critical to challenge the moral, religious and political views of strangers as soon as they disagree with them.

Where did Jesus say his followers would be known by that? Name the verse. In fact, love and fruit, are the only metrics by which Jesus said his followers would be identified.

So it’s bothersome that Meg was cagey about Jesus because she might be a Democrat or Buddhist or Wiccan or gay or vegan or whatever. It also made me want to post her picture on my desk forever so I can remember for whom my bell tolls.

I don’t want to be remembered for my opinions,” my friend and favorite superhero Bob Goff says. “I want to be remembered for my love.”

Willow Creek

Photo Credit: Willow Creek Community Church

Later, as the conference wound down, Willow Creek Community Church was gearing up for Saturday night service. I never imagined being excited to go to church on Saturday night, but when you are heavily loved by Jesus in the exact condition you’re in, it changes what you think is fun.

Plus, in a church of a zillion people, the girl on stage with the green hair and the banjo and the girl in the stilettos who sounds like Billie Holiday except for when she busts into original spoken word poetry, are sure to throw down something holy and cool.

They did. Then a 30-ish pastor got up and said the third commandment – don’t take the Lord’s name in vain – is much more than an injunction against cussing. It is a warning to anybody who would bear the name of God absent its love and mercy.

The Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, segregation, he said, were all examples of Christians charging into the world, with the name of God held high but stripped of its grace and power, leaving nothing to the bearers but their own names, agendas and brands.

The early church, he said, had no buildings or Bibles, just people who had been with Jesus and were marked by the experience, consumed with his light, his passion and his love. The church grew fast because that’s what people wanted then and that’s what they want now.

I don’t know Meg’s history, or what her faith looks like, but I think she feels like Jesus has been appropriated by a team she’ll never play for, so therefore she can’t play.

Meg, if you are reading this, not only are you welcome to play, but he wants you to, because you are singular, precious and beloved and nobody can play your position like you.