Have you ever noticed the image of celebrities when they are arrested for drugs or drunk driving, and their booking photograph is posted online for the world to see? They don’t look the same. In the pre-arrest publicity photos, they are well-coiffed and dressed in the latest styles. Their booking photo captures them raw, rude and undone. Any of us can look rough if caught and undone by our sin. Unredeemed guilt and shame can radically alter our appearance.
The photo I included in this writing is of me at age 26. I was an undercover narcotics cop getting ready to go through the hiring process at a large corporation in Silicon Valley in an attempt to arrest two drug dealers. I had an untraceable driver's license using my undercover identity issued by the State of California.
Just before I got the assignment, my supervisor asked me to cut off my beard and trim my hair. The booking photo of me “cleaned up” was actually a real-life booking photo with a dummied up arrest record so when the bad guys checked me out in the corporate office, my story would hold. I had to clean up to get past the personnel department regulations on personal appearance. Before the photo, I looked like a drugged up biker. Only a single corporate vice president in the corporation knew of my assignment. At the time, I was a very backslidden believer. It was a dark time in my life. You can see it in in the blank and lifeless stare in my eyes.
The blank stare is what I had in common with others caught in a moment of deep brokenness. There was no difference between my eyes and the eyes of a failed celebrity, a local meth addict, or someone caught in gross sin. The eyes tell the story. Ever since that fake booking photo was taken and seeing what my eyes looked like whenever I see a real booking photo of someone caught in a broken moment, the compassion of God rises up in my heart.
It doesn’t have to be a booking photo. It can be someone walking by me on the street and seeing that blank look in their eyes. I see those same eyes sitting alone in the audience of churches and conferences where I speak. The eyes tell a story of hopelessness. Of no way out. The ones who carry that stare feel like they have messed things up so badly they are trapped in their failure with no way out. The eyes reveal the sorrow of their soul.
The only thing that can change that blank stare is hope – a hope that comes when a lost soul hears the words, “You are forgiven.” When those words are spoken dead hearts start to beat, and blank eyes begin to refocus on the possibility of a new reality. Hope is our mission.
“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven” (John 20: 21-23).