The Bible is strong on grace without ever losing sight of the reality and seriousness of sin. Forget the debates on once saved always saved. We can all agree that saving faith perseveres to the end. It is perilous to confess Christ with your lips and set our hearts to deny him in deeds.
We are at war. Jesus laid out the terrain in Mark 13 and Matthew 24. Between his first and second coming the world will be characterized by conflict, natural disasters, wars, false prophets and the ever-present temptation to fall away. The danger is real.
So who makes it through? The ones who in their weakness, cast themselves on him. This world is passing away. Jesus has overcome the world. He led the way as the obedient Son who entrusted himself to his Father and triumphed over sin, death and Satan. His victory is ours.
There was a time in my life when I had no hope left. I wasn’t convinced my life was worth living. I had no strength left. The enemy was using my weakness to bring death and destruction. God had another plan. In my brokenness, I called out to God. I claimed my identity as one hidden in Christ’s death and resurrection. I rebelled against the reality I was experiencing. God is faithful and in his time and in his way he restored me.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
We do not want you to be uninformed … about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:8-9).
Leaders don’t fall because they are not strong enough, they fall because in their weakness they rely on themselves, not the God who raises the dead.
In August, Michelle and I travel to the US to be with our friends from Church Resource Ministries.
Ahead of the CRM worldwide conference, Sam Metcalf set the tone for the gathering in a letter. Here's part of what he wrote,
In the last year, along with our various leaders, I’ve sensed a shift from a focus on the “what and the “how” to a more profound question: “Why we do it.” I believe God has been gently, but firmly, drawing us together toward the grand scope and magnitude of that calling. He is graciously wooing us with his cosmic vision that stretches beyond time and space. This captivating “why” is succinctly captured in the following phrase:
...I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb (Rev 7:9:).
The ultimate expression and realization of the Kingdom of God is when the redemptive reign and rule of Jesus happens in the lives of people …when the Kingdom breaks in and the highest and most excellent of the created order—human beings—become committed followers of the King of the Kingdom. While there are certainly other essential manifestations of the Kingdom, this remains the ultimate biblical centerpiece of the mission of God. A phrase that I like to use to describe this priority is that "the Kingdom of God is never fully present unless people are becoming followers of the King."
This is what movement leaders do, they remind us of the why. Get that wrong and you drift into the missional fog.
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
I’m reeling from the news that another prominent Christian leader is defending himself against charges of sexual immorality.
I’ve been in vocational ministry most of my life. Here’s what I’ve learned as a man about staying out of trouble:
1. Build a guardrail
Billy Graham refused to be alone with a woman who was not his wife. This became known as the Bill Graham rule. According to its detractors the rule turns women into mere objects of sexual temptation. It excludes and disempowers women leaders. But Billy Graham did not say he would not relate to, or meet with, women. He said he wouldn’t be alone with a woman.
Guys, it's never a good idea to invite a woman to your hotel room for drinks. Never.
A pastor I know was counseling a woman in his office. The support staff had left for the day. It was getting dark and the pastor was tired. The session ended and he stood up to say goodbye. At which point she embraced him with one of those hugs that he knew was offering something more. He did the right thing and stepped back. But why put yourself and the lady in such a vulnerable place? Why not have ethical boundaries. They are like a guardrail at the top of a mountain, protecting you both from stumbling and falling.
There are all sorts of battles you can fight head on, but you run from sexual temptation (1 Corinthians 6:18).
2. Fear God
As a young man, I recall Floyd McClung mentioning that he prayed for the fear of the Lord, every day. I thought, if that’s good enough for Floyd, it’s good enough for me. Sexual sin is attractive because deep down we are all broken people. Sex promises comfort and wholeness. How could it be wrong when it feels so right?
I pray for the fear of God in this area my life whenever I feel tempted. That’s a lot of prayer! I remind myself of Jesus’ teaching on this. "If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" (Matthew 5:29).
I take what he said seriously. He’s not just referring to the natural consequences, but to God’s settled hostility to sexual immorality. There is grace and forgiveness if we turn back to him. There will also be serious and lasting consequences as King David discovered when he slept with Bathsheba.
3. Delight yourself in the Lord
Even for happily married men, there will be times weakness in the face of sexual temptation. Far more so for those whose marriage is under threat from conflict, or a health crisis or just having young children. Bring your brokenness and need to God. Even if you have no awareness of his comforting presence, remember his love for you in Christ who suffered and died in your place. Christ who rose from the dead. Christ who reigns and will return in power. Christ who is alive in you through the Holy Spirit. Even if every fiber of your being denies these realities, remain true to him. Turn your moments of greatest weakness into triumph.
4. Bring it into the light
Build some accountability into your life. Find some brothers who are also on the journey. Bring it into the light. Confess your sins to one another and hold each other accountable.
If you have been unfaithful, get help. There is grace that is greater than the worst offense. Don’t delay.
Few leaders finish well. It is possible. What do you want to be known for? What do you want as the outcome of your life?