By Jodi Hickerson
When I was 12 years old, my family moved from rural Kentucky, a town of 7,000 (including the cows), to plant a church in Las Vegas, Nevada. Slight culture shock.
Canyon Ridge Christian Church launched at a local YMCA. My dad preached with a large mural of a gymnast posing behind him. Babies entertained themselves in mirrored workout rooms (which were doused with about three gallons of Lysol). Students my age met in the racquetball courts—talk about a loud jr. high ministry!
The Gospel Is For . . .
Looking back, that’s when I realized that the gospel is for alcoholics, exotic dancers, high rollers, and the guy digging through his car cushions for another quarter. I saw the good news come alive to wine goddesses at Caesar’s Palace, runaways camping in cheap motels, dealers, and addicts.
When I was 17, I went on a journey of my own, running away from God and experiencing his loving pursuit of me coming back to him. I discovered that the good news is for the people-pleasing, conning, cheating, impure, deceitful, materialistic rebel.
When I was 19, I had the opportunity to live in Haiti for a year, and it changed my life forever. I discovered that the good news of Jesus Christ is for the poor, forgotten, illiterate, and uneducated; for the oppressed, enslaved, witch doctors, and dying; for children, orphans, people starving literally, and people starving for hope.
In my 20s my husband and I had the privilege of working at some incredible churches in both the South and Midwest. I learned that the gospel is for frat boys, girls gone wild, and the kid who’s been showing up to Sunday school since he could breathe. It is for firemen, farmers, truck drivers, rednecks, stockbrokers, seminary graduates, and stay-at-home moms. I saw the good news change people who had secret lives and stagnate faith. It is for politicians, factory workers, and self-righteous church leaders; for families falling apart and families pretending they have it all together.
I Thought I’d Seen It All
When we planted Mission Church in Ventura, California, three and half years ago, I naively thought I’d seen it all. I was praying, “Do it again, God!” Little did I know that God would break through every box I had put the gospel in. I have stood on the beach so many times, speechless before God, as I watched friends being baptized in the Pacific Ocean.
I think of my friend Deanna, former stripper, prostitute, and porn star, whom God has so radically transformed that she’s unrecognizable. Her journey of surrendering every area of her life to Jesus has been incredibly beautiful. This courageous woman is now in her second semester of seminary. She has more joy and gives her life away like no one I know. She says she wants her life to be a passionate “Thank you” to Jesus. When I am around her, I am reminded that Jesus doesn’t just make us better, he makes us new.
I think of a friend who was charged with manslaughter while driving under the influence. Her circle of friends walked away from her. Terrible things were said about her online and in notes dropped off at her door. I have seen her find community, open her Bible for the first time, and surrender her life to Jesus Christ surrounded by friends who have become family.
I think of Keith, who was the largest distributor of porn on the West Coast. Over the past three years I have seen this man seek, listen, walk away from the industry (and millions of dollars), give his life to Christ, and buy plane tickets across the country to humbly make amends with people he had hurt. I am not kidding you, he is the most evangelistic person I know! Jesus is transforming everything about his life and family.
I think of Carrie, a neighbor who called me one night to check her into a mental facility because she wanted to end her life after being caught in adultery. In that intake room I sat beside a woman who shed secrets like they were 50-pound barbells hitting the floor. I watched friends selflessly take care of her family during that time. I was there when she accepted Jesus into her life. I’ve seen her marriage restored—forgiveness and redemption up close.
I’ve watched friends who are homeless come up out of that water, friends who are terminally ill, special needs, victims of rape, Hell’s Angels bikers, kids with two moms, people counting days clean—and on and on. It’s like God is saying, “You think you’ve seen it all? We’re just getting started!”
Because who is the good news for? Everyone. Anyone.
This Is Our Story
This is our story, isn’t it? We’ve experienced the miraculous grace of God reach even us. This is our history.
When we look at the early church and the centuries that followed, nothing has ever spread like this good news. And the good news wasn’t only that someone could be saved, redeemed, and forgiven through Jesus Christ—it was that anyone could.
We all get in!
Think about how revolutionary this was in Jesus’ day. Class systems, clear lines drawn around who gets in and who doesn’t, who is acceptable and who isn’t—how stark of a contrast between Jesus’ followers who were writing, teaching, proclaiming, and living out an anyone kind of hope.
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith . . . There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).
“In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters” (Colossians 3:11, New Living Translation).
Jesus crossed racial divides. He valued women. He touched the untouchable. He embraced little kids. He gave dignity to those who had none. He brought hope to the forgotten. He sat around tables with notorious sinners. He made followers out of men who were crooked cheats. He looked at fishermen and saw world-changers. He let the tears of a prostitute anoint his feet. And Jesus was constantly criticized by religious people for who he let in.
We have the same Jesus. We have the same good news.
Jesus Stooped Down
In John 8, a woman caught in the act of adultery was thrown down in the dust before Jesus, in front of a large crowd. Just for a moment, put yourself in her shoes. Ever been caught in the act of something? felt embarrassed, trapped, afraid, used, dirty, guilty, exposed, hopeless?
People were demanding a verdict, looking on with rocks in hand, and then “Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger” (John 8:6).
None of us know what Jesus wrote in the dirt. But what is changing the way I live is simply, “Jesus stooped down.” Because that’s where the woman was. While everyone else towered over her, Jesus stooped down. He got in the dirt. He met her right where she was.
This is what Jesus has done for me. Jesus got right in the middle of my mess. “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along” (Psalm 40:2).
If we desire to become more like him, if we want our communities, churches, house groups, and families to reflect who he is, then we need to meet people right where they are, right it in the mess of it—embarrassed, trapped, afraid, used, dirty, guilty, exposed, hopeless. We are able to do this when we are aware that he got down in the dirt for us too.
Knowing our own desperate need for the grace of God enables us to meet people where they are. We not only watch transformation happen in the lives of people, we open ourselves up to being continually transformed. We are not only extenders of grace, we are daily recipients of grace. It is Christ’s love that compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14) to be a part of creating communities, leading our families, serving in churches. We say to all, “Welcome. We believe that there is hope for you through Jesus Christ.”
Because who is the good news for? Everyone.
And is it messy? Yes. Is it hard? Sometimes. Does it take time? Definitely. But it is also what makes me say every day, “I can’t imagine missing this!”
Jodi Hickerson is the programming director at Mission Church in Ventura, California (@jodihickerson).
Where Is God Moving?
Often in response to this question, we look first to our congregations. But God is moving beyond the walls of the church too, in and around us wherever we go. There are seven key areas that make up a culture (sometimes called the Seven Mountains of Culture or Influence):
Look around you. How are God and his kingdom moving in each one of these spheres? What does God’s work in these areas teach you?