In this life there's always a catch. But this time it's not a catch, it's a person. Because of Christ we can be unconditional. We love because He first loved us.
A Safe Place for the Broken
by Shelly Esser
Tears began falling down my cheeks as friends we have loved for three decades began to share their agonizing story with me and my husband. There had been a secret struggle so deep and filled with so much shame that it was impossible to speak, let alone admit to out loud – a struggle that had gone on for years. But, because of our long and trusted friendship, they wanted to tell us. The secret was discovered and now a marriage is hanging in the balance. In a blink, they are living in the pig pen.
Brokenheartedly processing what our ears heard but our spirits could not reconcile, God’s Spirit supernaturally filled us with love and compassion for these struggling friends. I imagined in that moment, Jesus being “moved with compassion” when He looked at my own sin, a model for my response. Too often when fellow believers end up in the pig pen, we are so quick to judge rather than to pour out grace and love. I had a choice: I could piously beat them over the head with Bible verses about how the wrong behavior is or respond like Jesus-with a heart of compassion-providing a safe place to confess their struggles. It could just as easily been me. All have sinned and fallen short. Sobering.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together says, “The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”
Unfortunately, many of us are’t very good with pig pens. Especially when it comes to Christians who “should know better,” or who “shouldn’t struggle with unthinkable sins.” As a result, we don’t become the healing place that people need. Thankfully, Jesus didn’t die for people who had it all together. He looked beyond our pig pens.
How do we respond when we see people in the dirt of their sins? Are we like the religious Pharisees who thought they were better than everyone else, not having anything to do with people down in the muck of life or jumping to cast stones? It’s a lot easier to extend grace for the unbelievers rolling around in the mud because, after all, it’s their job description to sin, but what about the Christian brother or sister who is struggling and falls? So often, that’s where we draw our Pharisaical lines, abandoning them in their times of greatest need.
First Peter 4:8 says, “Love covers a multitude of sin.” It’s a lot easier to respond harshly and pridefully. It’s been said, “The Christian army is the only army in the world that shoots its wounded.” We’re so worried about coming across as supporting someone’s sin that we abandon them altogether, failing to love them unconditionally. Galatians 6:1 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” (Gal. 6:1 N.L.T.) Notice its to be done gently because we ourselves can succumb to similar weakness. Martin Luther said, “If any man be overtaken with a fault, do not aggivate his grief, do not scold him, do not condemn him, but lift him up and gently restore his faith.”
To do this, it starts with creating safe environments in our Christian circles where we can be honest about our own struggles. The body of Christ is to be a place where we can tell the truth about ourselves. James 5:16 says, “Admit your faults to one another, so that you may be healed.” We can only do that in an environment that is safe and doesn’t say “only perfect people here.” My friend told me she had tried several Bible studies yearning for support, but everyone’s lives were “too perfect,” so she left shrouded in only moe guilt, shame, and despair. How could she begin to tell her story when everyone appeared to have perfect lives. The enemy is having a hay day as people continue to struggle alone in silence because there is no safe place to unload their struggles without condemnation. And isolation only leads to more darkness.
I don’t know how the heartache will turn out for my friends, but we will continue to humbly and gently help them on their road back home to the Savior who loves them deeply. Who is God asking you to get down in the mud with? Let’s regularly ask ourselves, “Am I a safe place for the struggling?” We are to be Jesus’ arms to wrap those who are overcome with sin in a blanket of God’s grace so they can be lifted up and restored to faith again-no matter how dirty they are.
Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2017 issue of Just Between Us magazine (justbetweenus.org)
“Why not just join the revolution? This question seems obvious to many people who look at conservative Christians and honestly wonder why we cannot just change our views on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and the entire constellation of LGBT issues. We are constantly told that we must abandon the clear teachings of the Bible in order to get “on the right side of history.”
But, it’s not that we don’t understand the argument—we just cannot accept it.
Of course, many liberal denominations and churches have indeed capitulated to the sexual revolution. As the legitimization of homosexuality moves forward, some churches and denominations have joined the movement—even becoming advocates—while others steadfastly refuse to compromise. In the middle—for now—are churches and denominations that are unable or unwilling to declare a clear conviction on homosexuality. Issues of homosexual ordination and marriage are regularly discussed in the assemblies of several denominations and in many congregations.
Clearly, many of the more liberal churches and denominations are not only accepting that argument, they are running away with it. Each of these churches once defined marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman, and every one of them once defined human sexuality and gender in agreement with the Bible and with historic Christian teachings. Now, at least some people seem genuinely perplexed that conservative Christians will not just go along with the program to redefine Christian morality, marriage, and doctrine.
We will not because we cannot. Unlike those who embrace liberal theology, we do not see Christianity as a system of beliefs that we can just change as we see fit. We do not see the Bible as a mere collection of ancient religious writings that can be disregarded or reinterpreted to mean something other than what it says.
Instead, we understand the Bible to be what it claims to be, nothing less than the inspired and inerrant Word of God. We understand Christianity to be grounded in specific truths as revealed by Christ and the prophets and Apostles and given to us in the Holy Scriptures. We believe that Christianity is defined by what the Bible calls “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
These days, we find ourselves opposed, dismissed, and ridiculed for holding to truths that the Christian church has taught for two thousand years.
The reality is that Christians who define Christianity in terms of historic Christian doctrine and moral teachings do not believe merely that these teachings are true, but that they point to the only way that will produce real and lasting human happiness. We are not merely opposed to same-sex marriage because we believe it to be contrary to Scripture; we believe that anything opposed to Scripture cannot lead to human flourishing.
The gospel promises salvation to anyone who repents of sin and believes in Christ as the crucified and resurrected Lord. If we misunderstand or misrepresent what sin is, we under-cut the work of Christ and our knowledge of the fact that we need a Savior. Furthermore, if we abandon the teachings of the Bible on sexual morality, we confuse the world—and ourselves—about repentance.
The Bible is not merely an inspired book of doctrinal truths. It tells a story of God’s act of creation and of the reality of human sin, of the depth of God’s saving love for His people in Christ, and the story of where history is headed. The Bible also warns us against any effort to change that story or to tell it wrongly. Yes, it warns us against the sin of teaching what the Bible calls “another gospel” than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The current American landscape includes the more liberal churches that are doing their best to join the sexual revolution and the more conservative churches that cannot follow. Simple honesty requires acknowledgment that it is the conservative churches that are teaching what Christianity has taught for two millennia.
We are told that holding to biblical authority and the historic Christian faith will lead to our marginalization. Perhaps so, but it is the more liberal churches that have been hemorrhaging members by the millions for the last four decades and, even in a secularizing age, it is the most secularized denominations that have suffered the greatest membership losses.
We do understand what is at stake in terms of the human judgment of history, but we are far more concerned about the divine verdict of eternity. We must speak the truth in love and seek to be good neighbors to all, but we cannot abandon the faith just because we are told that we are now on the wrong side of history.
Our response to those who are involved in homosexuality must be marked by genuine compassion. But a central task of genuine compassion is telling the truth, and the Bible reveals a true message we must convey. Those who contort and subvert the Bible’s message are not responding to homosexuals with compassion. Lying is never compassionate—and it leads ultimately to death.
In the end, the church will either declare the truth of God’s Word or it will find a way to run away from it. It ultimately comes down to trust. Do we trust the Bible to tell us truthfully what God desires and commands about our sexuality? If so, we know where we stand and we know what to say. If not, it is time we admit to the world that we do not have the slightest clue.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Jesus threatens hell to those who curse their brother (Matt. 5:22). He’s not warning drinkers or smokers or murderers. Jesus preaches hellfire against those who have the audacity to attack a fellow human being with harsh words. It’s ironic – frightening, actually – that some people have written books, preached sermons, or written blog posts about hell and missed the point completely. In fact, some people have slammed their Christian brothers and sisters in the process, simply because they have a different view of hell, missing the purpose of Matthew 5: Whoever calls his brother a fool may actually find himself guilty of hell.
Have you ever called your brother a fool lately? On a blog? On Facebook? Have you tweeted anything of the sort?
So often these passages become fodder for debate, and people miss the point of the warning. Jesus didn’t speak of hell so that we could study, debate, and write books about it. He gave us these passages so that we would live holy lives. Stop slandering one another, and live in peace and brotherly unity. Jesus evidently hates it when we tear into our brothers or sisters with demeaning words, words that fail to honor the people around us as the beautiful image-bearing creatures they are.
From “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle