When the World Out-Forgives the Church…

Not sure what you think of these two icons of the silver screen — but when Iron Man asks Hollywood to forgive William Wallace, it’s pretty cool. (Actually it’s Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson, but IM & WW sound cooler.)

  • What might this act of radical grace look like in your context or mine?
  • Who is “beyond hope” that may need another chance?
  • Who has forgiven you for your failures?
  • Who might you sponsor in forgiveness?

Watch this video and meditate on Luke 6:37.

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven” (NLT).

Disqualified…

What could disqualify someone from ministry leadership? Permanently?

Maybe a better question would be: are there people so broken that they can not be restored?

My hope — and I believe God’s heart — is that no matter what the offense, restoration is not only possible, but should be the ultimate goal. But things get tricky and sticky when it comes to how we do “church life”, and often people are permanently sidelined after failure. Why is this the case?

  • There’s hard work involved. Restoration is often a messy, lengthy process, and leaders dread wading into these challenging waters.
  • Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…and so on. We are fearful that people will be repeat offenders, and we don’t want the backwash of their continued failure to splash polluted water on to our “clean” reputations.
  • We just don’t want to be associated with the brokenness of others. If I embrace you, offense and all, people may assume that I tolerate your sin (gasp!) and this would be a negative reflection on me (double gasp!).
  • The church often reflects a shame-based culture. When someone blows it, there must be something inherently wrong with them (as if there isn’t something inherently wrong with me). We label those people as failures, as shameful examples of what “not to be”.

A friend has experienced something like this over the past year. A qualified and skilled ministry leader, he went through a dark season, during which he made a bad decision that snowballed a bit before he “woke up” and put an end to it. I had the privilege of walking with him during that time and since. I was so proud of him for going back to each person involved and making it right, choosing to swallow his pride and walk in repentance. The whole episode lasted no longer than two weeks, and he came out of it stronger and more humble than before.

But over a year later, my friend’s pastor won’t even consider him for a ministry role. There’s just no place for him. He’s disqualified. Worse yet, there’s no pathway of restoration being made available to him. In his pastor’s mind, he’s permanently disqualified.

Can’t we just admit that we’re all broken people in need of grace? We all need the hope of restoration. And discarding those who fail is plain stupid (oops…did I just say that?!).

Part of the problem of maintaining a shame-based, rather than a grace-based culture is that people will go to great lengths to hide their issues. Oh, they still have them. They just fear the permanent shame they believe will be brought about by exposure. My fear of marginalization usually exceeds my desire to walk in honesty.

Are there times when someone’s habitual failure should sideline them for a season? Yes, I believe so. Leaders have the responsibility to protect the community — both the one who is currently weak as well as those who could be negatively impacted by his or her failings. But even then, restoration should be the goal of a season on the sidelines.

I’ve recently been reminded of the need for a grace-based church culture in a profound book, Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. I’m not sure how this book, authored by pastor Jerry Cook, had escaped my reading for so long. But I’m really glad I picked it up…and I’ve bought and passed out dozens of other copies. Pick up your own copy and get ready to live differently. There is a world of broken people who are waiting for us.

(Photo credit: Ramzi Hashisho)

Accepted…

Recently, in early morning hours, my dreams turned dark. Hell-fueled thoughts sank deeply into my restless mind as I slept – all pummeling me with blows of rejection. In those dreams I experienced the most severe sense of rejection I’d ever felt, yet my waking did nothing to alleviate this life-sapping pain. For some time I lay in the dark, wrestling with this evil, unsuccessfully trying to work my way back to some semblance of self-worth; fighting in vain to regain hope.

At the end of myself, I feebly whispered my plight to Jesus. It wasn’t a prayer, but a half-hearted affirmation of what I believed to be true: that I am simply accepted by Him.

What took place over the next hours was life altering. The light of God invaded my soul, not only chasing away the dark lies of the enemy, but replacing them with a flood of His truth. I grabbed a notepad and began to document this truth encounter.

May what follows restore hope to you as it did to me.

* * * * * * * * * * *

God’s love is manifested in His complete acceptance of me.

His acceptance of me is not based on my ability, my perfection, my good looks, my success, my righteousness, my history or pedigree, my wittiness or humor, my keeping-up-appearances, my status, my intellect, my anything.

This is why He tells us that NOTHING can separate us from His love.

I spend so much of my life working to earn my way into acceptance, when all He wants to do is throw His arms open and WELCOME me into the most precious, deep and intimate of relationships – where I am my beloved’s and He is mine. He is the bridegroom waiting for His bride. His banner over me – the one He is longing to wave over ME – is love.

This perfect place of acceptance was seen in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. Nothing hidden. Nothing to prove before God or each other. Only knowing complete acceptance at every turn. No fear. No wondering. No striving. Just complete and utter acceptance.

Sin shattered acceptance. Fear came. Feelings of rejection came. The need to hide, both from God and each other, came. And it was the corruptness of pride that led to this travesty. Lucifer’s sin had been evidenced by his unwillingness to simply be accepted by God; he wanted to BE God. And this same pride-fueled brokenness now oozed into the soul of man. Truth was overshadowed by want. Wholeness was overshadowed by separation. And when the “apple” was eaten, taken in, swallowed, worshiped, idol-made (for hope was placed in that which was inanimate; hope for more; hope for a deeper, better existence; hope for a heightened identity apart from God), sin entered man’s story. And sin shatters acceptance.

The remainder of history – from the Garden until now – is the story of God’s restorative work. His mission is to reclaim all that has been lost, not only redeeming humanity to Himself, but man’s relationship to man as well. His mission is nothing short of the full restoration of acceptance, where nothing stands between us and God; where fig leaves (our feeble attempts to mask our gross inadequacies) are not needed; where shame and fear, separateness and rejection are eclipsed by the fullness of forgiveness, love and acceptance.

History culminated in the person of Jesus. The incarnation: God as one of us. Immanuel: God is with us. Jesus was, and is, the full and perfect representation of God Himself, fully manifesting His heart and His mission: to complete the possibility of restoration. Jesus came to audaciously proclaim, “YOU ARE ACCEPTED. I have not come to condemn you, but to redeem you, to save you, to make a way for you to experience the forever-freedom that comes from knowing HE WHO ACCEPTS.” Jesus, the perfect One, the accepting One, sacrificed Himself to take our brokenness, our shame and our sin, so that true relationship might be restored.

This is Jesus…

  • who invited Himself to a thieving tax collector’s home, and ate with this man who was marginalized and rejected by society due to his occupation and corruption.
  • who sat and talked with a woman of a “lesser” ethnic origin, giving hope to this person rejected by others due to her gender, race and personal impropriety.
  • who touched and healed the leper, someone completely put out of society due to disease and fear.
  • who verbally ripped apart religious leaders, who by word and deed, claimed superior status with God, yet heaped burdens on others that kept them from experiencing His grace.

The apple – that symbol of prideful and idolatrous brokenness; that object of shame that resulted in distance and fractured relationship – has been replaced by bread and wine. That which is animate, made alive in Jesus Himself, has replaced that which was inanimate. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” It is the meal of acceptance – “real food and real drink,” as opposed to all other vain pursuits of acceptance and relationship. Bread and wine stand opposed to the apple.

And now, “…because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” The acceptance we have found in Christ, we are now required to freely give to all others. We are to contend for unity: that place of full and unfettered acceptance, that place where even truth is spoken in gentleness, humility and love.

Jesus still assaults all word and deed that leads to relational brokenness and spiritual distance. Jesus stands opposed to rejection. And the table – that place where bread and wine are freely shared – must never be a place of greed, lust, pride or humiliation. All are welcome. All are accepted.

I am accepted.