This morning as I showered, I let the words of Graham Cooke wash over me -- truth beautifully spoken -- “The Lord loves you. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you more. There is also nothing you can do to make Him love you less. He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you …
He won’t love you any better when you become better. Because that’s they way that He is … that’s His nature. He loves all the way, all the time. His love is unchanging.”
Like the warm water running down my back, these words of truth washed over me, invigorating me, steading me for a new day … until they hit a *SNAG* in my brain.
Like a zipper caught halfway down, my enjoyment of God’s love yanked to to a stop.The words of a dear friend came back to me: “I’m just not sure I can trust Graham Cooke …. because, you know, he’s divorced.”My thoughts snarled … and I started thinking.How often in sermons have I heard, “We can take comfort from the fact that none of the great prophets of old were perfect. They were human, just like us. And yet, God used them to say great things.”We know Abraham intentionally deceived others -- on more than one occasion. Yet he’s even mentioned in the Bible’s “hall of fame": “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)
The sticky fact is: we carry a double standard. When a “hero” of the Bible messes up, we breathe a sigh of relief and they seem more approachable to us. Yet today, when a pastor, worship leader, teacher, or missionary fails -- and especially fails in public -- We shrink away. We wonder, is it still okay to keep that book he wrote (the one that we enjoyed at one time)?
Is it still okay to listen to that worship album if I find out one of the musicians was …. you know …
These are good questions -- the Bible says “[those] who teach will be judged more severely than others.” (James 3:1)
We do need to carefully evaluate who we let speak with authority over out lives.
And yet. I think it’s easy to go too far. I think sometimes we -- the American church -- go to far.
He writes that one controversial book, and so all his work is quickly discredited. Anyone that shares his sermons must issue a disclaimer … “Now, I know he wrote that really awful book, but really some of his stuff is great … “
She is caught in an affair, and the numbers at her Bible study dwindle.
The fact is, we have far less grace for our leaders of today than we show to those that are gone, despite the Biblical admonition to give good leaders “double honor.” (1 Tim 5:17)
How silly would it be to throw out all of David’s psalms because of his illicit relations with Bathsheba …. or his murder of her husband …. or his cover-up of the murder … (take your pick). Instead, we celebrate the fact that GOD spoke incredibly through him, in spite of his shortcomings.
But today -- today we push leaders into a frenzy of trying to attain public near-perfection.
Watching political leaders sweating to attain the perfect image, hoping to be given the majority approval, I am painfully reminded of how we do that within the church, every Sunday.
Pastors may talk about struggles from the pulpit, but often they are “acceptable” struggles -- the ones that won’t tarnish their reputations, but will be indulgently passed over with a chuckle. We don’t often hear pastors share their struggles with pornography, yet a recent survey shows that 51% of pastors say cyber-porn is a possible temptation, and 37% say it is a current struggle. (Christianity Today, Leadership Survey, 12/2001).Something is wrong.This obsession with perfection, pushed by the media, is infecting our churches.The result is that it becomes harder and harder to be an honest people, broken vessels that openly share our sins -- and most magnificent -- HOW GOD IS HEALING THEM.Our status quo, the one that we (perhaps didn’t choose, yet) find ourselves in is so focused on evaluating an individual as a whole
so quick to draw lines in the sand,
to position ourselves on the right side of the line --
that we’ve forgotten ... the Holy Spirit was was given as a guide. That Spirit, given to exercise our muscles in discerning someone’s message -- not someone as a person.
As a newly-launched missionary, I find myself tangled in the middle.
My journal contains a stack of half-written blogs I longed to post here, discarded because they might be too controversial or too honest.
This tiny voice in my head wonders --
“What if they knew that I cried nearly EVERY day in Tanzania, hating my team … refusing to see the banquet table the Lord prepared before me -- a beautiful community I would not sit with?”
“What if they found out that retching in a primitive outhouse in India, I begged God to let me go home?”
The saddest part is, the most beautiful stories come out our brokenness, God actively and currently molding redemption in our lives.
THAT team I never thought I could work with? They became deeply loved family by the end of the Race -- after countless hours of painful discussions, working out our differences.
And oh, there are more stories -- stories of my own brokenness, my own stupidity, that somehow God transformed into beauty …
They are beautiful stories, these recent threads woven in God’s tapestry called redemption … beautiful stories that often go untold, because we will not tolerate how truly messy our sin is.
Because, as Derek Webb reflected, it’s easier to ask for a new law; a new rule for our rulebook, so we don’t have to think … instead of listening to the Spirit.
I’m boldly declaring that THERE IS A BETTER WAY.
God gave us the Spirit -- to “find out what pleases the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10) So that we could be free, “not under the law, but under the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:18)
Paul encourages us to “not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:17)
It takes practice. It takes sitting in silence with the Lord, honing our ears to hear his Spirit’s quiet voice -- until that voice becomes so familiar, it’s like a shout in our mind. (Ephesians 1:13)
If we all became more acquainted with the Spirit, more practiced at loving all and evaluating words, not people -- we could trust the Spirit of God in others to lead them, to lead us,
and we could live freely, for “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5)
I read Galatians 5. I hear Graham Cooke’s voice speak unequivocal truth -- that same man that is divorced, yet still blessed by the Spirit to speak truth …
And that snag in my mind? It smoothes out, because the Spirit inside me can tell me what is true.
And I hear freedom bells ring.