Last Friday evening, I met a man rummaging through a dumpster. He was wearing very dark sunglasses and had tattoos all over his arms, his neck, and his face.
It was a construction/demolition dumpster, so he wasn’t rummaging for food. He’d managed to pull out some pieces of aluminum gutter and trim that probably had a scrap value of about two dollars.
He told me his name was…. Well, he didn’t actually give me permission to use his name, so let’s say his name was “Dan.”
Dan said he just got out of jail. He said he’d gotten into a fight in a bar and it had completely ruined his life. He had no job and no real hope of being hired by anyone. He said he’d never fight again.
I talked with Dan for a little while, and encouraged him to go down to the local Salvation Army, as I had just spoken with a pastor who I knew was involved in a ministry there at that very moment. Dan didn’t want to go to the Salvation Army, so I asked if I could pray for him.
He said he was a Christian and he’d like it if I prayed for him. I did, and I asked God to bless him and lead him and guide him and protect him and give him a hope and a future. I think Dan said, “Amen” when I finished but it didn’t seem very enthusiastic.
Come Sunday morning, I mentioned Dan to the folks at the church Bible Study. I described Dan and what had taken place and asked what our reaction would be if a tattooed man like Dan walked through the front door one Sunday morning.
One lady said it would be difficult, but she would try very hard to accept him and welcome him.
Another man sitting next to me railed on how horrible it was that people now-a-days got tattoos like that and how he could just not understand how someone could do something like that to themselves.
I asked him if maybe tattooed Dan would be better of in a different church than ours.
“Maybe,” he muttered.
When the service began a couple of minutes later, the very first song we sang was “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury. We’ve played that song many, many times on Kinship Radio since it came out in 2018. It won many Christian music awards and it’s a favorite of mine. I have sung that song many times with brothers and sisters in Christ in Guatemala, at a Christian camp in northern Minnesota, in the Dominican Republic, in Israel, and in more than one local church. It holds many fond memories for me.
The song was not without controversy, however. That single word, “reckless” was a bone of contention for some believers. They said God is not reckless –that He knows exactly what He is doing. Asbury’s reply was that leaving the ninety-nine to go find that one lost sheep is indeed an action many people would consider reckless.
I can see both sides of that argument, and I’m a guy who has words as kind of a “thing” in his life. In fact, I’m pretty sure words are the gift God gave me to do the things He wants me to do. So, looking at the song as a whole, I do not have a problem with the word “reckless” in the context of this song. It is indeed reckless to leave the ninety-nine and go off searching for one lost sheep.
Mountain you won’t climb up
Coming after me
No lie you won’t tear down
Coming after me
Reckless love of God
It chases me down
Fights ’til I’m found
Leaves the ninety-nine
The apostle Stephen was reckless. (See Acts 7) One can make a legitimate case that Jesus chose Peter specifically because he was impulsive and reckless. And many of us would certainly say the way in which Jesus spoke to the Pharisees was beyond reckless, even incendiary.
Once Jesus had risen from the grave, given the Great Commission, and ascended into heaven, all of the apostles lived reckless lives. None of them feared death and all fully gave their lives over to Christ.
Before even stepping into the church that morning, this is the verse I found in my daily devotions:
No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart. John 2:25 (NLT)
And as I thought about that verse, I realized that while tattooed Dan may have a marijuana leaf and flaming, screaming skulls clearly visible on the outside of his body, Jesus clearly sees and knows what’s tattooed on my heart. Non-tattooed Dan is no better than tattooed Dan and never has been. The difference is only what the human eye can see. The difference is on the outside only. Both tattooed Dan and non-tattooed Dan do indeed have a hope and a future because Jesus, even though He can see how disfigured and vandalized both our hearts are, loves both of us enough to light up every shadow in us, to climb every mountain of unbelief and despair, and to tear down every wall we’ve put up against Him so that we can be found and brought back amongst the ninety-nine.
That’s reckless. That’s love.
And I hope and I pray with all my heart that every lost soul who is broken and battered and convinced he or she has no hope and no future would one day step through the doors of a church that boldly, recklessly puts their fears aside and rushes to welcome that lost sheep back into the flock.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18a (ESV)