How to respond…

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13 NIV)

Brennan Manning says…

“This is a passage to be read and reread because every generation has tried to dim the blinding brightness of its implications. Those of us scarred by sin are called to closeness with Him around the banquet table. The kingdom of God is not a subdivision for the self-righteous or for those who lay claim to private visions of doubtful authenticity and boast they possess the state secret of their salvation. No, as Eugene Kennedy notes, ‘It is for a larger, homelier, and less self-conscious people who know they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle.’ The men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their own imperfect existence.”

As we look out into a culture which seems to be slipping into the abyss, we should keep in mind…

1) That we should not be surprised. This has been predicted for over 2000 years (2 Tim 3:1-5; 4:3) and will continue to get worse, not better. Each day, we are one day closer to Jesus’ return.

2) Nor should we think that God has lost control or been taken by surprise. God is on His throne. His Word will endure forever. The gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.

3) That we should pray for all people. Our friends and our opponents. The leaders and the followers… everybody and everyone because “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

4) Find another way of reaching those we need to reach beside Bible-thumping and doctrine-thumping. Although, unfortunately, there will be plenty of “hellfire and brimstone” preaching this Sunday, those that need to be reached won’t be in attendance. It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). It is God’s kindness, love, grace, and mercy expressed through the Cross of Jesus Christ that will change hearts. Shaking heads and pointing fingers will not soften hearts. But the love of God can and will. As Christians, we need to love better, plain and simple.

Also, in good conscience, I cannot shake my head, point my finger, and stand aghast without looking in the mirror. When I look in the mirror, I do the same: shake my head and stand aghast at my own heart… and then – in desperation – cry out to the One who supplies the love, grace, and mercy to us all.

The Ripple-Effect

Yesterday I discovered that another nationally-known, prominent Christian pastor has fallen to “moral failure.” In other words, he committed adultery. I was heartbroken for him, his wife (revealed to also have an affair), and his kids. After meeting with his church’s leadership, he resigned. His mega-church will be shaken to the core, as will the national ministry he founded. The ripple-effects will be widespread.

This is Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian. Not only will his immediate family, his megachurch, and the national ministry, Liberate, be shaken, so will his extended family. Although there they don’t always agree theologically or politically, I’m sure the entire family is broken.

The effect doesn’t end there, of course. I find myself grieving as well.

This is a man who has always said how desperate he is for the grace of God. No more so than now, I suspect. He is a man who knows (hopefully, now more than ever) “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) But he has tweeted an apology to all who would hear it that he knows sin has its consequences.

His wife.
His children.
His extended family.
His church family.
His ministry.

His witness.
His credibility.

I think about all who listened to his eloquent preaching and beautiful writing and I cringe and shake my head. It’s tragic.

If you’re reading this and are contemplating an affair or are hoping that your flirtations might lead somewhere, just think of the consequences. They are lifelong. Believe me, I know. Rightly or wrongly, they will affect your credibility and influence for the rest of your life. Is there grace? Praise God, yes! But the ripple-effect of the consequences are far-reaching, too.

You may think I’ve put Tullian Tchividjian on a pedestal. I don’t think I have. Was I influenced by him. Oh yes! Thankfully, yes! I don’t set aside my love for the Gospel and know we all need it everyday. I will continue to be impacted by his ministry. Partly because of his preaching and writing, I have truly discovered the love of God and the true nature of the Gospel. Although another Christian leader has fallen, Jesus Christ and His love remain steadfast.

His love endures forever.

The Worst

Do you remember Jim Bakker? Of course you do. To be honest, I had to look up how he had “fallen from grace.” It was a sex scandal and accounting fraud that led to his imprisonment and divorce, according to Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge – ha!). He is now out of prison, remarried, and pursuing ministry. He is being used by God again.

I recently heard of a pastor preaching a sermon entitled, “I am Jim Bakker.” In his sermon, he detailed, to the horror of his wife, kids, and congregation, how sinful he truly was. He was not guilty of the infamous sins that Jim Bakker was imprisoned and “defrocked” for, but, in no uncertain terms, let it be known how sinful he was — in word, thought, and deed.

The apostle Paul did the same thing in an even more open forum, the Bible. He is, from the grave, constantly reminding us of who he was and what he had done. He persecuted Christians, leading to their imprisonment and death. He was a not-so-innocent bystander at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58). He was a murderer or at least an accomplice.

He reminds us of this in his first letter to his mentee, Timothy:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

The writer of almost half of the New Testament tells us how bad he is. “The worst,” he says.

Somehow, I think we ALL can say that. I know I can. When faced with the holiness of God, I know I can call myself a sinful man. If you only knew. Like Paul and like that pastor who preached the sermon, I can declare that I am a sinner. Everyday. Plain and simple. Cut and dried.

But Paul continues and thankfully offers hope and shows us our purpose at the same time. He continues:

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (v.16)

God wants to use me and you to show His love, patience, and glory. He uses our brokenness to minister to others. What the enemy means to destroy us, God can and does redeem for His glory! I’ve seen this in my own life and in lives around me more times than I can count.

In a recent interview, Jim Bakker said:

“I’m glad it all happened. Now I can go anywhere and be with anybody in the whole world, and there are no raised eyebrows. I can go into any bar — any social circle of outcasts — and nobody tells me that I ought to be careful because ’people will talk’ and that I will ’hurt my reputation.’ People have already talked, and I don’t have any reputation to hurt. It doesn’t matter anymore. I’m free!”

That’s what walking in the light does. When we bring our secrets out in the open for God to see, we can walk in freedom. When we admit that we’re no better than the next person, we don’t need to point out what the next person did. There are no more masks. No more pretending to be good. We can praise God and His Good News. We can thank Him that He was the only Good One. We can praise Him for what He’s done for us.

And we can join the apostle Paul when he continues in the next verse, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (v.17)

Yes. Amen!

An Innocent Man

I’m reading The Gospel For Real Life by Jerry Bridges and one of the chapters is about God’s justice. For me, knowing that God is the ultimate Judge, Jury, and Jailkeeper allows me to rest, not wanting to seek retribution or revenge on those who treat me wrongly or in some way, lie and cheat their way through life. I know that, in the end, ultimate justice will prevail.

If you’ve ever been the victim of a crime or know someone who has, you wants justice. You want the person who committed the crime to receive justice and to pay the penalty for the crime they committed against you, your family, or against society at large. You want them to pay, plain and simple. Like you, I want justice to be swift and I want it to be severe.

But what if you’re the person who committed the crime? You don’t want that. In fact, you hope for mercy or even a miscarriage of justice. A miscarriage of justice. Let that sink in a bit. That would be the wrong person paying the price for someone else’s crime. It would mean that an innocent man would pay the penalty.

Now, place yourself as the criminal. You are the one who committed the heinous crime… and yet, somehow, there has been a miscarriage of justice… an innocent man is paying the penalty for your crime. Do you cry out to save this man? Do you contact the authorities and let them know that they’ve got the wrong man? Probably not. The law of self-preservation is at work and you (and I) remain silent. Got to save our own skin, after all.

Now, right in front of you, the sentence is being carried out… the death penalty… and you’re being forced to watch. Well, maybe not forced, but you can’t miss it. It’s right in front of you. It’s up there… there He is… hanging on a cross.

To understand the grace of God, you and I must understand the justice and holiness of God. God hates sin, but loves you and I. A penalty had to be paid… and in an unfathomable act of love, God sent his own Son to carry out His justice and to show us His love.

It was His justice being served ON HIMSELF… on an innocent man.

Today, mindful of that, I am thankful for and worshipful of that man: Jesus.