A few years ago I sat in a restaurant with a close friend of mine. We were roomies in college, had lost touch for nearly 30 years and had now renewed our friendship. Funny how you can pick up some friendships where you left off after all those years!

Both Jack and I were going through some difficult times when our paths touched again. He was in the healing process of being brutalized by the church where he had served as pastor for years. In the midst of that trauma, his daughter had left her husband and children and run off with her boyfriend. Jack was battered, bruised and broken. A man of faith whose feet had been knocked out from beneath him.

 I on the other hand, was watching a marriage of nearly 30 years crumble. I’d resigned from the church where I as bi-vocational pastor and had recently lost my ‘day job.’ I was scared, angry, embarrassed and ashamed.

 After some small talk, I asked Jack how he was doing. These times we had together weren’t some ‘ultra-spiritual’ accountability group. There were no open Bibles, no scripture memory assignments and no ‘questions to answer.’ We were just a couple guys trying to make sense of life in the hard times.

 It was a simple question, but Jack’s answer has stuck with me all these years. “You want to know how I feel? I’ll tell you how I feel. I feel like God is saying to me, ‘Jack, you are a failure. I love you. You will spend all of eternity with me. When your time has come I will welcome you at the gates of heaven and tell you I love you. But, I’m not ready for you up here yet. Your mansion won’t be ready for 20 years yet, and actually you don’t qualify for a mansion but you will get a really nice cottage! Since you have messed up so badly I’m going to just let you sit for the next 20 years. When I’m ready for you I’ll come. But for now I have no real use for you. You’ve just messed up too bad.’

 I remember chuckling and saying to Jack, “I don’t think we should be together.” There were two reasons for my comment, both in jest of course. The first reason is that often in our Christian circles we tend to shy away from people we perceive as ‘spiritual’ when they utter statements like this. It makes us uncomfortable to think that God would, in all His love, really abandon us.

 The second reason is closely related. In those times of brutal honesty I think each of us has felt that way. Especially those who have endured broken relationships, abuse of any kind, or any other calamity that overtakes us. This seems to be especially true if we can point to poor choices we have made. Then, the ‘stuff’ we are going through can be attributed to the ‘consequences of sin.’

 Jack had clearly and bluntly stated exactly how I was feeling. God had abandoned us. We had failed miserably. We had dropped the ball. We played the game of life and lost. No matter how we’d tried to get back off the bench, it wasn’t happening.

 The reality is we were both basing our demeanor of that night on feelings, not fact. That attitude was a lie straight from the pit of hell and contradicted everything we knew about our loving Heavenly Father. Jesus’ ministry on earth is a constant reminder that He seeks after the lost sheep, the hurting, the bruised and the battered.

In our hearts we both knew the truth. Scripture is full of people such as Abraham, Samson, David, Solomon and the Apostle Paul who had failed miserably to ‘walk the talk’. Yet through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ we serve a God of second chances. Jesus still utters the words he spoke to Peter before Peter openly, defiantly and intentionally denied he knew Christ. “When you return, feed my sheep”. Key word there is ‘WHEN’ not ‘IF’.

John Eldredge, in his book ‘Wild at Heart’ reminds us that we are God’s Plan A and there is no Plan B. He has put us here on earth for a purpose, to glorify His name, to build a relationship with us, to enjoy our company. He knew from the beginning that we would fail, rebel, and act like selfish two-year olds. But He loves us anyway. That’s why Jesus came to die for us while we were still sinful, rebellious, stubborn humans.

 Satan would like us to believe that there comes a point in life when we outlive our usefulness to God. Age, changing times, stupid choices and errant spouses or children are just a few of the reasons we believe we have reached our ‘expiration date’ when it comes to the Christian life.

 Our churches are full (or empty as the case may be) of ‘The Empty Pew’ people. People who for whatever the reason has given up on God. It may be because of abuse. It may be due to poor choices. I don’t think it really matters to God why these sheep have strayed from the fold. The important thing is that the body of Christ, the church, finds ways to bring them back to the safety and comfort of the fold.

 My passion for ‘The Empty Pew People’ is the driving force behind “Built with Grace Ministries”. Please pray with me that together we may reach out to those who need to hear, once again, that no matter what, Jesus loves them.

If you are struggling today with the faith. You’ve wandered away. You feel defeated, abandoned and of no value to God, please don’t believe the lie. You have value. You are God’s Plan A. Jesus is longing to rebuild the relationship He died to create.