Loving enemies

Mandisa Hundley used to sing in the church where she grew up in Citrus Heights, California. After high school she studied jazz at American River College before transferring to Fisk University in Tennessee. There she earned a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. She worked as a backup singer for Christian and country artists, but her big break came in the fifth season of American Idol

Mandisa sang for the judges, who cleared her through to the Hollywood round. But after she left the room, judge Simon Cowell made a sarcastic remark about her weight: “Do we have a bigger stage this year?”

On the next show, Mandisa came out to see whether the judges would pass her through to the next level. She looked at Simon and said, “Simon, a lot people want me to say a lot of things to you. But this is what I want to say…yes, you hurt me, and I cried, and it was painful. It really was, but I want you to know that I’ve forgiven you, and that you don’t need someone to apologize in order to forgive somebody. And I figure that if Jesus could die so that all of my wrongs could be forgiven, I can certainly extend that same grace to you. I just wanted you to know that.”

Could you be that gracious?

Simon apologized, hugged her, and told her she’d been selected to advance.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” But he never told his followers to be door mats or lay down in the face of injustice.

How did Mandisa do it? How was she able to be so gracious to someone who had humiliated her on national TV, even as thousands on social media were urging her to retaliate?

The only way to forgive an enemy, without letting them walk all over you, is to know that you were once God’s enemy.

And to begin to grasp what it cost Jesus to forgive you.

Marathon Sunday

Its 5:45 on Sunday morning and it’s still dark, but there are more people on Sixth Avenue than in the middle of a normal workday. It’s Marathon Sunday in Pittsburgh. I’m helping Victor set up the new sound system on the front porch of the church when a lady in running clothes comes up the steps. She’s on her way to the Point for a group photo with her relay team, but first she needs a blessing.

Praying with people before the race is one of my very favorite things about being a minister of this church. Most Christians are reserved about sharing their faith, not sure how they’ll be received. But not Christian runners on race day. They know they depend on a higher power.

We played motivational Christian music over the loudspeakers which you could hear a block away. People loved it. One lady came down the street singing along to Mandisa’s “Overcomer.” Four guys from New York had seen the ad for “Blessing the Runners” and asked me to pray for them. A trembling woman grabbed my hand and asked me to pray for a loved one. A mom asked me to pray for her kids. I approached a big group posing for a picture in front of the church and asked if they wanted to be photobombed by a minister. They joyfully put me right in the middle of their group and asked me to pray for them. Still others left wiping away tears.

I prayed with folks in small groups or one-on-one, and other times I spoke over the loudspeakers to the hundreds of people walking down the street to their corrals.

Adam from New Castle checked in on the church Facebook page: “I wanted to give a shout out to you guys. As I was trying to navigate my way early Sunday morning to my corral for the marathon, I got turned around and started to panic a bit (which I almost never do). I called my wife and asked her to pray as I was nearly in tears because I couldn’t find my way. At that moment, playing loudly from your outdoor sound system was Casting Crowns’ “Courageous”. I immediately became at peace, turned the corner, and directly in front of me was the area with which I needed to be. Thank you so much for the encouragement. Also, praise to Him for helping me on my way.”

What a privilege to serve Christ in the heart of the city.