It was a humid Wednesday evening and I found myself inside one of Puerto Rico’s maximum-security prisons. And I have never disagreed with God more than I did that night.
After worship, I opened up the sermon with a funny story, but failed again. The story did not relate to them at all so no one laughed. I could feel the tension building as the air got thicker inside the room. The love I felt the first time I visited was absent now. As I scanned the room, I realized there were a lot of new faces. The crowd was bigger than the first time, but it was also less responsive. Very few people smiled, reacted, or even followed the verses as I shared them. As a breeze of dry air, fear filled my mouth and made my thoughts weak and incoherent.
I remembered what I learned from Carol Arnott. “Take a step back into your Father’s embrace.” The problem was that I could not feel any embrace. I heard no encouragement from the Father. I went through the motions of it, but I felt alone and disconnected. And that was the moment when God got my attention.
Right in the middle of delivering what I thought was my most compelling point, I heard the voice of the Father as a fleeting thought, “Tell the ones who have sexually abused their daughters, that I forgive them.”
Um. Of course I won’t!
My mouth kept moving as I shared the gospel, but my mind went into argument mode. God and I had a serious conflict of theology that needed to be discussed.
“Wait a minute” I thought, “The devil is trying to trick me!” Thus, I began to bring my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, and prayed to God that I could focus on the task at hand: Saving the lost.
That, did not work.
Regrettably for me, I heard the statement again, but this time it was loud and clear. Many times I have heard that voice, as I am sure you have too. It’s a whisper on the inside; it sounds like you, talks like you, but it is way nicer and wiser than you could ever be.
Yes, that voice.
There was no doubt in my heart; God was speaking to me. But I was so shocked at what He said, that I wanted to believe it was not Him. By the third time He said it, there was no shaking it. So I decided to disobey!
“God there is no way that I am saying that, I don’t think you should forgive people who have sexually abused their daughters. Freaking pedophiles deserve no good thing! And even if I do say it, no one will respond…. You know God, it might cost them their lives!” (Inmates in Puerto Rico are not kind to those that are in prison for sexual abuse to minors.)
I made a compelling point. Yet, my heart pounded in the knowledge of God’s grace, which is way more infinite than my limited judgments. And so it was, in the one-second where I thought, “I know this is God” my mouth began to say the words that I had been trying to fight off for the last 10 minutes.
“Oh yeah, and If you have sexually abused your daughters I want you to know that God the Father forgives you.”
After the longest 5 seconds of my life I repeated myself. But this time, I was miraculously convicted of what I was saying. The guards who were standing at both ends of the front row looked at me mesmerized. I turned back to look at the friends who had joined me, and they could barely understand what was going on. All eyes were locked on me in the hope that I would move forward and forget what had just happened.
Suddenly, a man sitting two rows to my right fell slowly to his knees and began to say, “Maria! Maria! Perdóname.”
I could only assume Maria was his daughter, and for the sake of those that don’t speak Spanish yet, perdóname means, “Forgive me.” The man on the floor started to scream out loud: “Maria, Maria, forgive me.”
There are no words to adequately describe that moment. It felt like grace was an actual substance that could be breathed in, and everyone in the room took a deep breath.
Two men, sitting close to this broken father, came close and extended their hands of support. Shock was still present in the room, but fear had been slowly dissipated.
Straight away, another man to my left broke down and started to pray loudly for forgiveness. Tears began streaming down my face and a message was sent to every heart present – If God is that good, that He is willing to forgive that kind of sin, then there is hope for me.
One after another, spontaneously and without much direction, these sons began to pray, kneel, lift their hands and call out to the most forgiving Father there is. I then crossed the invisible line the guards had established between the crowd and me, and I came close to Maria’s dad who was still on the floor, begging for forgiveness.
I join the other men, touched his back and felt God’s presence in a way that I had never sensed before. I spoke into the microphone with no arguments, jokes or clever revelation. I just keep repeating the words: “He loves you; He forgives you!”
After a time of walking around with the team and ministering individually to our new friends, we began to lead them in prayer. They repeated prayers of forgiveness towards their own fathers for the abuse they had endured at home. We lead them in prayers of self-forgiveness for all the wrong choices that had brought them to imprisonment.
Then, we closed the night receiving the Father’s embrace by the Spirit of adoption. The same embrace Carol received over and over again whenever she took a step back. The same embrace I had received while disagreeing with God. The same embrace the prodigal son received when He returned to the father’s house.
The same embrace, God the Father wants to give to you now.
I now agree wholeheartedly with a fundamental fact of Scripture; God is a good Father! And when God is Sweet to Pedophiles, I understand it a little better.
Because He’s not just a good Father to me, but to all of us broken and hurting little children. Both to the victims, and the predators.
There is a high probability that you have done things in life that make you feel disqualified from His love. We have all sinned and fallen short. The difference between these men and us, is they were caught doing something that society determined was worthy of prison.
But Jesus already paid a price even for the things we will fail at tomorrow. You could finish this story, move on and never think about the Father again, but He will still love you perfectly and consistently.
The demand of love that heaven puts on you today is simple. Receive the gift that has already been paid for. Come and encounter Abba.
Unlike the previous fathers in your life who have either abandoned or rejected you, abused you or controlled you… God’s loves the broken you, the you that hides, the you that fails.
He’s sweet to all.
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