Years Ago in a Church Far Away

“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path” (Galatians 6:1 NLT).

Following Jesus means getting involved with people. Sometimes this means seeing people at their best, in their happiest moments. So, like Jesus, we find ourselves celebrating at a wedding. Other times this means seeing people at their worst, in their broken moments. So, like Jesus, we find ourselves with a person caught red-handed in sin.

Years ago in a church far away I found myself with a church leader whose extramarital affair had just been revealed. This brother had worked hard to present himself as a sincere follower of Christ. He was a master of disguise who could create the illusion of an honest and morally upright family man. When his mask was pulled off, he was revealed to be something very different.

Sometimes having your sins revealed, especially in a public way, can provide a much needed opportunity to come clean and have a fresh start. As ministers, elders, and other church friends responded to this unmasked adulterer, we had hopes the situation could somehow result in repentance and bring glory to God. We met with “Billy” – praying for him, listening to him, and providing counsel for him. We reached out to his wife and children. We cried out to God for healing. We discreetly did all we could, without broadcasting details of this restoration process.

What happened next surprised me. Billy stopped taking our phone calls, refused lunch invitations, declined prayer opportunities, and began missing church gatherings. But while he stopped talking to church leaders and friends who were reaching out to him, he began talking to others in the church. In fact, he would talk to anyone who would listen, even reluctantly, to his complaints.

  • “Nobody has reached out to me to help me.”
  • “The elders are hypocrites; they haven’t even tried to call me.”
  • “None of my so-called friends care enough to reach out.”
  • “I guess the minister doesn’t have time for a sinner like me.”

And so he left the church, but not before trying to do as much damage as he could on the way out. After we began hearing these accusations of neglect, church leaders and friends continued to reach out to him. After all, we knew he was hurting and his life was reeling in the wake of his scandalous behavior.

What happened next surprised me even more. People from the church began calling me, the elders, and friends of Billy. They had been getting the phone calls from Billy in which he lashed out against the ones who lovingly and graciously helped him get a fresh start. One family was so disgusted by the lack of response to Billy that they left the church and wrote an angry letter on their way out. The letter didn’t ask questions to verify the stuff Billy was saying. The letter assumed Billy’s stuff was true and blasted the church leadership for not reaching out to him.

What’s an elder, minister, or friend to do? Do we broadcast to the church (especially to the family who left) all that had been done to help Billy? Do we try to defend ourselves against the charges? Do we grow bitter and decide to never get involved in another situation like this? I think the answer to each of these questions is, no. We do what God has called us to do – gently restore the person caught in sin. We cannot control how people react, but we can control how we act.

Burden Bearing, Burden Sharing

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Compared to many people I know, my life has been relatively uneventful. However,  throughout the course of my life I have had some difficult days.

I have had burdens to bear.

Sometimes my burdens have resulted from my being caught up in sin. At different times my burdens have been the result of others being caught up in sin.

Sometimes the burdens have been easy enough to manage. At different times the burdens have been heavy, almost unbearable.

At all times God has been faithful.

At all times Christian brothers and sisters have been right there with me to help carry the load.

As I remember those who have walked beside me and helped carry my burdens, I am reminded that others have burdens, too.

Sometimes their burdens are easy to manage. At different times their burdens are heavy, almost unbearable.

Sometimes their burdens are the result of their sin. At different times their burdens are the result of my sin.

At all times God is faithful to them. The question is, am I?

Am I willing to walk alongside someone who is hurting?

Am I willing to help carry their burdens?

As I ponder this passage I realize I have much for which to be thankful. And I regularly have burden carrying opportunities.

What I need to remember, what we all need to remember, is that carrying burdens for each other is exactly how God wants us to live our lives.

_______________________________________

Loving God,
Thank you for providing burden bearers for me.
Forgive me when I burden others by sinning against them.
Forgive me when I am too tired or disinterested to carry burdens not my own.
Empower me to live out your law by bearing burdens.
Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
In the name of Jesus,
AMEN

People Pleasing?

Galatians 1:10 NLT
“Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.”

An obsession with people-pleasing can be a problem no matter what your line of work. As a preaching minister I constantly pray that I will seek God’s approval over that of people.

Sometimes it gets tricky.

God,
Forgive me for the times when I have sought to please people.
You and You alone, O God, are worthy of my desire to please.
Give me the strength to live in order to please You.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen.

Sowing to the Flesh

It’s no secret that John R. W. Stott is one of my very favorite writers. Today I want to share from one of his works a quotation that may help us focus on allowing the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in our lives.

Sowing to the flesh
“To ‘sow to the flesh’ is to pander to it, to cosset, cuddle and stroke it, instead of crucifying it. The seeds we sow are largely thoughts and deeds. Every time we allow our mind to harbor a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fantasy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company whose insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk which strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh. Some Christians sow to the flesh every day and wonder why they do not reap holiness.”

–John Stott From “The Message of Galatians” p. 170.

When We Break Bread

“But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” Galatians 3:13 NLT

Every time we break the bread and drink the cup we remember Jesus giving himself for our sins. So many thoughts race through our minds. The love of the Father. The sacrifice of the Savior. The grace of redemption. The hope of the atonement. So many emotions fill our hearts. The sorrow for sin. The joy for redemption. The delight for the mystery. The gratitude for reconciliation. Within our hearts and minds is stirred a hunger for knowing God more and deeper than ever before. How could He love us so? When we were so undeserving? Knowing what He has done for us, how could we ever say “no” to Him?

And yet the cross communicates more than just the love of God and the possibility of salvation, it tells us some things about ourselves, some things that we might rather not hear. Consider this list, adapted from John Stott’s commentary on Galatians.

  • We are sinners under the righteous curse of God’s law who cannot save ourselves
  • Christ bore our sin and curse because we could gain release from them in no other way
  • If we could have been forgiven by our own good works there would have been no cross
  • Christ on the cross is bearing our sin, suffering our curse, paying our debt, and dying our death

Stott concludes: “Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.” (The Message of Galatians, p. 179).

Maybe this is why, as Stott suggests, preaching the cross of Jesus is not popular in some circles. Preaching about the sins of others makes us feel good about our superior accomplishments. Preaching a legalistic obedience fosters a sense of “we really can do it ourselves if we just try harder and get it all right.” Preaching Christ crucified puts us in our place.

Every time I break the bread and drink the cup I remember Jesus giving himself for my sins. And that is a good thing. I need to remember.

I need Thee every hour!