Archive for August, 2015




How would you respond to someone spitting on you as you tried to sleep on the sidewalk? With violence, despair or patience? Meet a man in this article who, like Jesus, responds the third way. But first…

I wrote the allegorical story titled, The Prison many years ago and have just published it here on my blog.

The prisoners in this story were guilty of committing the most heinous crimes against humanity. Their deliverance by the hero in the story could seem unjust to some. It is normal to view such vile offenders as deserving of their punishment, but rarely do we see ourselves as worthy of that same treatment.

Maybe we can see ourselves in this story, or maybe we cannot relate to these outlaws because we consider our crimes against God just “misdemeanors.”

It could be that the prison we find ourselves in is one of self-justification. “I’m not as bad as so-and-so. Sure I sin, but not big sins like some people.” We create a pecking order not only of sins, but of people who commit those sins. For some reason, many like to say, “I’m not as bad as Hitler.” Talk about lowering the bar!

Some of us find solace in comparing ourselves to others, while others are tormented by the same practice. I once saw a humorous book titled, Old Age Is Always Fifteen Years Older Than I Am. Whether we think better of ourselves as better or as worse, our self-perception is skewed when comparing ourselves with others.

We puff ourselves up, or tear ourselves down out of the common human experience known as insecurity.

The insecurities that exist in all of us come from the knowledge, experience and consequences of our shortcomings. Our personal faults and character flaws are painful to face. They cause us to feel shame. The definition of shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”

So many of our friends challenged with homelessness are trapped in shame and other people’s lowly view of them.

Richard Maraj

One of my buddies named Richard (left), who is experiencing homelessness, told me that he loves The Relief Bus. He said that when he goes to other places for food, he is often treated roughly, like a prisoner. But, he says our staff and volunteers at The Relief Bus always have smiles for him and treat him like a person.

Richard is from Trinidad and is one of sweetest men you will ever meet. He always has a kind word to say and has a deep love for Christ. Richard takes care of himself and dresses sharp. Our team has gotten to know him well and appreciate this man who is such a joy to be around. He encourages us in the work we do and let’s us know how much we are impacting the community. He ministers to us.


He told me that sometimes people literally spit on him while he tries to sleep.

jesus statue

Richard sleeps on the sidewalk each night next to a statue of Jesus, in front of a Catholic Church. He told me that sometimes people literally spit on him while he tries to sleep. That has got to be a hard feeling to shake, a hard prison to break out of. It reminds me of how Jesus was treated:

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists.

Matthew 26:67

My shame isn’t physically evident to people around me, but when I look in the mirror I see someonShamee who is prone to lust, judging others, cowardly avoiding conflict, fearful of looking bad publicly, pretentiousness and laziness. I don’t like these things about myself. These are things that I don’t want to admit, but know are truth.

Becoming spiritually mature is not thinking of ourselves too highly-as better than others, but also not too lowly-as inferior to others. Whichever way we are skewed, we need Jesus to remove the scales from our eyes so that we can see ourselves clearly.

How do we escape this kind of crushing shame? We have a hero who can not only relate to us, but who can also break us out of this prison of shame:

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:3-5

Although he didn’t deserve it, Jesus was covered with shame. He was crushed for us. Because he took our place, we can find peace and be healed.

I need not despise myself, when someone who knows that I am even worse than I think, loves me dearly. He watches me adoringly as I sleep at night whether I am sleeping on the sidewalk or a warm bed. He sees the good and the potential in me. He believes in me despite myself.

Although I am as guilty as the convicts in The Prison, my hero has broken me out of prison. Now it is my job to let others know they can be free too. Pass the word.


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The Prison- Part 1


There was a maximum security prison located far from any town or city, which had a reputation for being the very worst. It was like a cage for the animals. Only the most depraved criminals were confined there. Deep within the bowels of the prison, the sick and twisted men who lived there were held captive by iron bars, concrete bricks and barbed wire. Molesters, rapists, dealers, pimps, pushers and murderers were among their ranks. They were no longer fit for common society and so were isolated to the point where they could no longer harm anyone but themselves.

The conditions of the prison fit their nature perfectly. It was disgusting. Roaches roamed the walls of their cells. Rats fought them for the few scraps of food they received. Lice and mites infested their mattresses. There was a deep and nauseating stench in the air of human feces, blood and sweat. This was a literal hell on earth prepared for those who had inflicted fear and fury on their victims.

Violence was the norm instead of the exception. Life here was brutal and assault was common. Gangs fought for control and constantly battled for dominance. The guards were cruel and merciless. Any punishment handed out was swift and severe. Constantly, the guards would taunt and harass the inmates, hoping to provoke a fight in which they were sure to have the upper hand, armed with steel batons and double-barreled shotguns.

This confinement was the end of the line. There was no escape and no possibility of parole. It was reserved for the worst of the worst. The atmosphere was thick with misery and hopelessness. Many wished death rather than spending the rest of their lives in this dark pit. The days were filled with emptiness and the nights were filled with terror as the screams of new victims echoed in the dungeon-like caverns of the cellblocks.

Each inmate was simply a number waiting to be called on death row. There were no more appeals to be made, no hope of reprieve. All were assured a painful execution in front of their victims or the families of their deceased victims. All were destined to die a death that they knew they deserved. Each feared the day that they would make that final walk down the hallway to meet with eternity.

guard tower

One day, news of a visitor spread throughout the prison. This was strange because no visitors were ever allowed. They were curious yet cautious, thinking this might be another trick by the guards to lift up their hopes, than crush them. Word got out instantly that this was not just any visitor, but a man famous throughout the country. People revered him for his love for the hurting and the down and out. He was deeply respected by the poor and even the criminals in the barrios and ghettos. Being such a man of honor, the prisoners could only wonder why he would visit this armpit of a prison. They were even more amazed to find out that he would be speaking to them collectively out in the prison yard, surrounded by guard towers. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

The mob of prisoners stirred uneasily as the man stepped up to a microphone on a wooden platform. He said “Men, I’ve come here today because I have found a way for each of you to be pardoned and set free. The warden of this prison and the government have agreed to allow all of you to leave if one person will take your place on death row, and receive execution in your stead. I have decided to do just that.”

Immediately, when he finished the statement, guards grabbed him from both sides and dragged him away to the place of execution. The prisoners were wide-eyed with shock as they were led to the observation room. They stared on as this man known to all as good, was strapped down to “the chair” and wires were affixed to his chest and arms. A metal cap was strapped onto his head. The inmates were bewildered and could not fathom why this man who had it all, would do such a thing.

The warden nodded to the switchman who brought down the lever quickly. The body of the man tried to rise up as the electricity pulsed through him, but the thick leather straps held his limbs down. For several seconds, that seemed like days, a shrill and piercing scream came out of the man’s mouth and then he fell silent.

Just as the man had said, the prison gates were opened and each of the men walked out into the open. They began to cry and shout and laugh. They embraced each other and jumped up and down. Some of them just ran and ran with big smiles spread across their faces. Somehow, they weren’t the same savages they had been only minutes before. Something had changed.

In one moment of death, every one of them had been given new life. Not one of them returned to their illegal activities and crimes. They traveled throughout every country, telling anyone who would listen the amazing story of how one good man had taken the place of all of them- the refuse and scum of society. They went out and found their old comrades in crime, and with love in their eyes, led them away from their destructive habits and ways. Nothing could stop them from feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans and raising up the powerless. They went to every run-down neighborhood and lifted the hearts of all who were troubled, from people living on the streets, to those battling drug addiction. Their story was one of new hope. This message went around the world and changed everyone who heard it.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:18

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