One of my role models in ministry was accused of sad, selfish sinfulness last month, disgraced even as he was preparing to hand off the church he planted forty years ago, one that grew to be one of the largest in America. He wrote several best-selling books about the Christian life. I heard him speak several times over the years and he inspired me with a practical, down to earth message about living for Jesus in this world.
Now, like David, my lament is this – “How the mighty have fallen in battle!” (2 Samuel 1:25, NIV)
Thinking about about the pain in his family, about his wife’s sense of betrayal, about the other women he’s apparently discarded along the way, and his church in disarray – fills me with a mix of emotions including fear, anger, and sorrow. Knowing how to deal with those who stumble and fall is hard, isn’t it? He’s not an especially evil man and I am not prepared to throw out his books, erase his memory, or vilify him as many are doing.
For many the only possible response is to distance themselves from the man as quickly and as far as possible. Some, for a time apparently, tried to cover it all up, to protect him from his disgrace. Others are publishing harsh, critical statements that, at least to me, read as hateful. Thousands of us who saw him as a role model are disappointed because we fell into the trap of making him that man we saw only in his public persona a Christian celebrity. We allowed ourselves believe that because he had a well-known name, was a popular speaker and a best-selling author, that he breathed a different kind of air, living in a world apart from our ordinary one. In fact, now we know that he is a ‘sinner saved by grace’ just like the rest of us.
If I could sit down for an hour with him today, I would just want to listen, to encourage him to do what he can to make restitution to those he’s hurt, to own his failure, and to receive the immeasurable grace of God that defies our human understanding. Whatever he has done, whoever he is in private, I know that God loves him with a love that deeper than the pit his sin has dug!
Here a couple of conclusions that I have formed from Bill’s story.
The first is that we all are capable of great good and great sin.
Those who are pointing fingers, self-righteously castigating this man, need to read St. Paul’s words again. “Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.” (1 Corinthians 10:12, The Message) We need not walk around in fear of the world, our sinful nature, or the Devil however we need a healthy respect for the lures of temptation that comes to each one of us.
Second, we need to resist the temptation to turn our leaders into celebrities.
Leaders are there to serve us. We make a huge mistake that complicates their lives and confuses us when we turn the famous and gifted Christian musicians, pastors, and authors, into people we think are larger than life. When we do this, we fail to pray for them. Their ‘ministry’ becomes more important to us than knowing Jesus. And, if they fall, we find ourselves disillusioned, bitter, and angry. Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians that their love of name and personality was a mistake. His words to them are words for us! “Christ Jesus … has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31, NIV)
There is powerful forgiveness and unbelievable restoration available to those who turn from sin to God, who own their sin without excuse, and seek Him.
Are you struggling with temptation today?
We all do. It is no cliché to say that there is victory in Jesus!
Are you watching another struggle to get back on their feet after taking a terrible fall? Love them, pray for them, come alongside of them to offer a hand.
Here is a word from the Word. God use it to keep us on our feet for Jesus’ sake. “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments.” (1 John 1:8-2:3, NLT)
(a beautiful old folk hymn)
Come ye sinners poor and needy
Weak and wounded sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you
Full of pity love and power
I will arise and go to Jesus
He will raise in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
Oh there are 10,000 charms