Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How grace is supposed to work for you, me, King David, General David Petraeus & every "screw-up" we like to gossip about

In the small church I grew up in, every now and then a “sinner” would come along seeking to get right with God. Gripped by the Holy Spirit’s conviction, they’d make their way to the altar, ask Jesus into their heart, slap a pack of cigarettes down swearing to never smoke again, and shouts of “Glory!” would fill the sanctuary.

They’d come to church for awhile, struggling to understand what they’d actually committed to, but not getting a lot of practical help. Someone might give them a King James Bible and encourage them to “Just pray through, brother!” but little else.

Later, they’d start missing Sunday service and generally not be seen much. Finally, someone would report, “I saw him last Thursday standing outside the midtown bar smoking. Sure as anything he’s backslid.”

The church folk would hear the news, shake their heads, and mumble “Tsk, tsk, tsk. For shame.” And then go on their smug self-righteous ways.

And of course gossip about said backslider incessantly to anyone who would listen.

Talk about slandering someone!

Big names bite the dust

It seems that nearly every week we learn of yet another noteworthy Christian who has failed in some way. Or, as we like to put it, “fallen from grace.”

The metaphorical bullet that felled him or her could be anything such as poor leadership, spurious theology, too much facial hair, questionable financial accounting, immorality, bad fashion sense, broken marriage, arrogance, and on and on.

If the person happened to have authored books that were once “Christian bestsellers,” all of their books are pulled from store shelves and their publishing contracts cancelled. If they are musicians, their music is shunned and silenced.

We hear the news, shake our heads, and mumble “Tsk, tsk, tsk. For shame.” And then go on our smug self-righteous ways telling anyone who will listen that we knew all along something was just not right with him or her.

David was a no good, terrible, horrible, very bad man on occasion

Um, I don’t think we quite get it.

Isn’t there something in the Bible that says all have sinned? Not just a few. Not just them. But all. This includes me and you.

Imagine David, the mighty warrior king, Psalmist, giant slayer, and musician, if he were alive now. His books and CDs would definitely be in every Christian’s home! Certainly he would have a very busy speaking schedule and headline major Christian conferences around the world.

And then that whole crazy thing with Bathsheba, Uriah, and a bastard baby happens.

How much more messy can you get than adultery, conspiracy to murder, and an illegitimate baby who later dies? Can’t you just see the relentless headlines and salacious news reports? “Heeeeere’s Nathan!”

Immediately David would be anathema in every church across the country. His books would be banned and his music trashed. No more Psalms in the Bible!

Giant killer? Who cares! Now he’s a has been.

Talk about your fodder for incessant juicy gossip and character assassination!

Oh how the mighty have fallen and so now we don’t look so bad with our “petty” sins. Or as Jerry Bridges calls them, our respectable sins.

At least we’re not as bad as you-know-who, wink wink, nudge nudge.

God sees us better than others do

If anyone fell from grace and deserved to be tossed aside, certainly it was David.

But that’s not what the Bible says. This is not how God sees him.

The Bible reports that David was a man “after God’s own heart,” and Jesus is even referred to as the “son of David”!

God blatantly associates himself with a known sinner! Gah!

The Bible is full of “big name believers” who flopped or committed big no-no’s or had serious character flaws -- kind of like all of us -- but were still loved by God and did powerful things for him.

Their value and worth was not measured by their few or many failures, but rather by their in-between-the-faults faithfulness. Kind of like all of us.

You know, like that allegedly Japanese proverb that’s actually a Proverb (24:16) from the Bible that counsels “fall down seven times and get up eight.” Again and again.

Of course, it’s tough to get up when everyone around keeps taking shots at you. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m sure you’ve seen the lists that get circulated on social media. They point out that Moses murdered a man and went on the lam, Noah got drunk, Elijah was suicidal, Rahab was immoral, Jonah tried to run from his duty, Lot committed incest with his daughters, Paul killed Christians, and John the Baptist would be an embarrassment to “civil” Christians today!

While certain failings are to be avoided and not lauded, clearly God has a much different perspective on our sins and he has done his best to communicate this way of seeing to us.

Discipline, yes if needed, but then let it go

Paul chastises the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 5 for not disciplining blatant immorality being flaunted by believers. But then, after discipline was applied with repentance the result, Paul exhorts the same Corinthian church to welcome back the chastened and move on (2 Corinthians 2).

Paul’s admonishment is mostly directed to the failing of fellow believers and not the ones caught up in the sin. First the church members ignore the issue and then go too far in their discipline. What’s missing throughout is the tempering of grace and love.

Love doesn’t ignore issues and grace is quick to restore the repentant.

We are not called to judge one another, but to love one another. We are not called to shun one another, but to forbear with one another. We are not called to shame and slander one another, but to come along side and lift up one another.

The goal is always quick restoration and never endless condemnation.

Consider the guidelines gleaned from what Paul lays out in this one short passage of Romans 12:9-21:
  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
  • Honor one another above yourselves.
  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
  • Live in harmony with one another.
  • Do not be proud.
  • Do not be conceited.
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Do not take revenge.

Is this how we treat our fellow believers we view as somehow fallen or backslidden?

Probably not as often as we should.

A dish of gossip with a big side of slander: Unclean! Unclean!

Oh, and just in case you don’t think you’ve ever slandered someone or sought revenge, let’s examine this a little more closely.

These and their cousins -- defamation and character assassination -- are often passively-aggressively administered. Frequently this is done in confidential whispers under the guise of being concerned, and justified by being at least slightly based in “truth”, as we warn others to be careful of those we deem damaged or damaging.

For example, say someone once lied to you in a specific situation. Or maybe you just assumed they lied. Maybe even wrongly assumed they lied.

Now you feel it’s your duty to protect others from this culprit, so you give a head’s up to those they may encounter indicating there may be an integrity issue. You convince yourself you’re just erring on the side of caution while you are actually tarnishing their reputation.

This is a form of slander. And it’s also a form of revenge, a repaying evil for evil (or rather, paying it forward).

The perceived or real offense you are reacting to could be any number of things, could be old, could be new; we can be very creative when we want to be offended.

If you confronted the offending party and they reconciled with you over the issue, then it’s done. You need to shut up about it. Continuing to bring it up to others is simply revengeful and slanderous.

If it’s something you’ve never talked with them about or they aren’t even aware of your being offended or whatever, then the first thing you need to do is talk to them and shut up as far as telling others. Talking about it to others is simply revengeful and slanderous.

When the prophet Nathan learned from the Lord what David had done, he didn’t go around Jerusalem spreading slander, gossip, innuendo, or rumor. No! He went directly to David and confronted him. David acknowledged his sin, dealt with the consequences, and sought God’s forgiveness (see Psalm 51).

We are not called to be tabloid Christians!

God’s grace is stickier than we think

Not long ago General David H. Petraeus was a highly regarded military man. In fact, some referred to him admiringly as “King David.” Some thought he could one day, like General Eisenhower before him, become president. But Petraeus fell for his Bathsheba, the journalist and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Headlines declared that he has gone from “hero to zero” and has suffered a stunning “fall from grace.”

Yes, what Petraeus did was wrong and the consequences ripple out. But, like the biblical King David before him -- and just like us -- Petraeus has not been severed from grace. At least not God’s grace.

Paul, the killer of Christians and grateful recipient of God’s lavish grace offers these truths:
  • All grace is available to us to empower us forward in good works: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV).
  • There is forgiveness and redemption through grace:  “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace” (Ephesians 1:7, NIV).
  • We are inseparable from God’s love which is an expression of His grace: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV).

All this to say, as believers, there’s no such thing as “falling from grace.” And we have no business trying to get in between God’s grace and another struggling believer.

All we need is love until we don’t but we really always do & grace, too

1 Corinthians 13:1-8  -- the LOVE chapter -- is a favorite passage to be read at weddings or printed on wedding invitations.

But after the wedding, when the marriage hits rough spots, these verses seldom are brought up. Instead, accusations are layered over accusations, often fabricating or exaggerating perceived failings to justify what at least one person wants -- out.

If a marriage needs one thing more than love, it’s grace.

Every relationship needs this! Not just marriages.

Love and grace are combined in this instruction from 1 Peter 4:8-10: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.... Each one should ... serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms” (NIV).

As much as we covet grace, love, and forgiveness for ourselves, we must freely extend these to others. Even when they’ve hurt us.

There is no other acceptable option.

So, the next time you catch yourself or your chums being all catty and tut-tutting over someone else’s perceived failings and faults, stop. Imagine how you would feel in their shoes and what state you would be in without God’s grace active in your pathetic life.

Or, better, imagine your life plastered all over the tabloids and talk shows!

As Paul sums up nicely, we are called to be grateful grace-filled grace-givers, not gadabout gossips:
“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV).

And that’s how grace is supposed to work. For everyone.

How much time each week do you spend gossiping about others? How much time to you spend dwelling on your own faults and past failings? How much room do you make in your life for receiving God’s grace and for extending grace to others? Share your reactions and thoughts in the comments!

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