Posts tagged ‘Forgiveness’

True Confessions

Confesson 1I love to read all sorts of things. Theological tomes. Biographies.  Histories.  The Bible.  I love to read op-ed pieces in newspapers and long form journalism – an art form I am concerned is all too quickly disappearing – in newsmagazines.

I love to read. But I don’t always like what I read about.

Case in point. This past week, I was scrolling through my newsfeed when up popped a story about a pastor who had to resign from his church because of serious ongoing turpitude. I wish I could say I’m surprised. But I’m not. I’m not surprised because I’ve seen far too many of these kinds of stories for them to shock me.  I’m not surprised because I know the human heart can be a dark place, leading people to do dark things. I’m not surprised because I know my heart can be a dark place, leading me to do dark things.  I’m not surprised.  But I am heartbroken. I am heartbroken when I think about the pain, regret, and fear this brother in Christ must be experiencing. I am heartbroken by how his story is being talked about on social media.  An Internet mob has predictably descended on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and comment walls to attack and destroy this man in a sickening display of schadenfreude. This man is in my prayers and, if I can be so bold, he should be in yours.

It is out of my heartbreak that I want to sound a warning not only to my brother pastors, but also to all Christians: Satan hates you and is out to destroy you. This is why Revelation 9:11 calls Satan “the Destroyer.” Satan wants to destroy you along with all the people you love and all the people who love you. Indeed, the sin of this pastor has not only compromised his security and livelihood, it has also deeply wounded his congregation – exposing them to ridicule in the hot spotlight of a nationally trending news story – as well as, I’m sure, emotionally devastating his family.

A few years back, in The Asbury Journal, David Werner asked an important question: “How is your doing?” He asked this question in the spirit of John Wesley, who took great care always to connect “how one was doing internally (in one’s soul) … to what one did, or how one lived out the Christian life externally (in one’s actions).”[1] In other words, Wesley wanted Christians to seriously consider how well their actions comported with their words and worldview.

So, let me ask you: How is your doing? Are there any “doings” that you are hiding? Is there a sin that remains secret? Now is the time to confess it, repent of it, and receive forgiveness for it. Now is the time to share it with a pastor, a counselor, or a trusted friend in Christ so you can be held appropriately accountable for it and, ultimately, be absolved of it.

The apostle Peter exhorts us to two important “doings” when he writes, “Be self-controlled and alert” (1 Peter 5:8). Both parts of Peter’s admonition are critical. If you cannot control yourself, your ability to help and lead others will be inevitably compromised and, in some instances, discredited and destroyed. And if you are not continually vigilant, watching out for Satan’s tricks and traps, he will use your slumber toward righteousness to take you down before you even know what hit you. Being self-controlled and alert is key.

But even more important than Peter’s admonition is Peter’s invitation in the verse prior: “Cast all your anxiety on God because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Sin tells a sinister, but enticing, lie. It promises you that if you fall to it, it will release you from your anxiety. “Imbibing too much alcohol can help you lighten up and have fun,” whispers sin. “Misusing God’s gift of sex can give you a much needed thrill in a hard knocks world,” says sin. But, in the end, sin never helps your anxiety. Instead, it only adds to your anxiety pain, hurt, brokenness, and guilt.

Peter reminds us that only God can take our anxiety because only God has taken care of our anxiety by taking care of our sin on the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ. So lay your anxiety – and your sin – on Him. In the words of the old hymn:

I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God;
He bears them all, and frees us
From the accursed load.
I bring my guilt to Jesus,
To wash my crimson stains
White in His blood most precious,
Till not a spot remains.

There is a chance that this man who has had to resign from his church will not serve again as a pastor.  But even if his vocation as a pastor has passed, his vocations as a husband and as a father still stand.  My prayer is that, out of his pain, this man serves in these callings from God repentantly, patiently, and lovingly and that he finds his comfort in what God has called him:  His forgiven child.

My prayer is that you find your comfort there too.

_______________________________

[1] David Werner, “John Wesley’s Question: ‘How is Your Doing?’” The Asbury Journal 65, no. 2 (2010): 68.

May 25, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Common Question: How Were People Who Lived Before Jesus Saved?

Credit: Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Credit: Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Last weekend at the church where I served, we talked about Jesus’ audacious claim that faith in Him and Him alone is the way to salvation. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

The truth that salvation is through faith in Christ alone raises a perennial theological question – one that, once again, came to my attention in an email I received after last weekend’s services:  If people can be saved only by faith in Christ, how were those people who lived before Christ saved?

At the heart of this question lies an assumption – that people before who lived before Christ were somehow saved in a different way than those who lived after Him. The apostle Paul, however, would beg to differ. He points to one of the most famous characters in the Old Testament, Abraham, and specifically asks the question, “How was Abraham saved?” His answer is unmistakably clear:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

Paul announces, “Here is how Abraham, perhaps the most famous character in the Old Testament, was saved: by faith.” How does Paul know this? Genesis 15:6, of course: “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Importantly, Paul says that God “announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.” In other words, before Jesus came to save sinners, God announced that Jesus would come to save sinners.  For example, the prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before Jesus’ advent, speaks of a servant who will be sent by God to take away the sins of the world:

Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

So how were people saved, forgiven, and made righteous before Jesus? By believing that Jesus would come to save, forgive, and make them righteous. How are people saved, forgiven, and made righteous now? By believing that Jesus has come to save, forgive, and make them righteous. In other words, people both before Jesus had come and now that Jesus has come are saved in the same way. They are saved by Jesus.

Oftentimes, people harbor a misconception that people who lived before Christ were saved by following God’s Law while people living after Christ’s advent are now saved through faith in Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. People have always and only been saved by Jesus Christ and His work, even as Jesus Himself says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” God’s gospel has always been the only plan for our salvation.

If your life is anything like mine, plans are constantly changing. While writing this blog, I had to move an appointment because things on my calendar changed. Last week, as I was coming home from a trip to Dallas with some friends, we got a flat tire and plans, due to circumstances beyond our control, changed – we got home later than we expected.  Plans are constantly changing. And oftentimes, it can be frustrating.

The promise of the gospel is that even if our plans change, God’s plans are sure and certain. The plan for our salvation always was, is, and will continue to be Jesus. There’s no need to look for another plan.

April 20, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Private Conversation and Public Rebuke

Bible 1When I was in college, I had a professor tell me that if you get five churchmen in a room to discuss a particular issue, they will have six different opinions. It’s true. Disagreements – especially in ecclesiastical contexts – arise often. Offenses against others are committed often. Jesus, as Lord of the Church, knows this. This is why Jesus gives us instruction on how to address disagreements and offenses among us:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.  (Matthew 18:15-17)

Jesus is clear. Disagreements and offenses are best and first addressed privately before they are addressed publicly. Sadly, in the church body of which I am a part, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, I have seen Jesus’ pattern disregarded again and again.

Over the past few months, I have been able to attend two conferences hosted by different congregations of my church body. During these events, some took to social media to malign these conferences – often in acerbic and sarcastic ways – over differences they had with the presenters and presentations. When confronted about these uncharitable comments in light of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, some of the people posting these comments maintained that because the teaching at these conferences was public and, in their opinion, false, the rebuke of these teachers was also appropriately public. They cited Martin Luther’s words: “Where the sin is public, the rebuke also must be public, that everyone may learn to guard against it.”[1] These people saw no need to have a private conversation with those with whom they disagreed.

Because my church body is doggedly committed to properly and carefully interpreting Scripture, I believe it is worth reminding ourselves what Scripture says concerning how to address disagreements among us. For I believe that those who argue for public rebuke apart from any private conversation are either misled, or perhaps even misleading.

First, it needs to be said that sarcasm that only attacks instead of seeking to correct is always wrong. As Solomon sagely warns, “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense” (Proverbs 11:12). In our disagreements with each other, we must be careful never to be belittling of each other.

Second, it is important to note that the Scriptures – and especially the Pauline letters – are full of public rebukes. For instance, Paul rebukes a member of the church at Corinth for his gross sexual immorality, of which the Corinthians were foolishly approving (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-2). He also rebukes his fellow apostle Peter for refusing to eat with Gentile believers (cf. Galatians 2:11-14). Then, in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, Paul provides his young pastor protégé with some guidance on how to publicly rebuke false teaching:

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

Two points are worth noting in this passage. First, accusations of false teachings are not to be made ad hoc. Just because one person sees false teaching in someone’s ministry does not mean that there is, in fact, false teaching. False teaching must be discerned corporately; not individually. After all, an accuser may himself turn out to be a false teacher – or, in some instances, a false accuser! Second, the primary reason for a public rebuke is “so that others may take warning.” In other words, public rebukes are for those who are in danger of being swayed by false teaching. They are not for the false teacher.

But what about the false teacher? How does one deal with him? Here is where Jesus’ words concerning private conversation commend themselves to us. For they are meant to help a false teacher see the error of his ways and, by God’s grace, come to repentance.

This leads me to my concern with much of the discussion surrounding public rebuke in my church body. There are some who use Paul’s words concerning public rebuke as an excuse to not heed Jesus’ words concerning private conversation. But both private conversation and public rebuke are needed, for both false teachers and those who are falsely taught need help. Public rebuke cannot be used to supplant private conversation.

I know that, sometimes, private conversation is impossible. Indeed, I have warned against false teachers and teachings on this very blog. False teaching is worthy of a warning! But if we can have private conversations with teachers about whom we have concerns, I see no reason not to have these conversations. Scripture commands it. The integrity of our consciences demands it.

Allow me to offer one final distinction as a kind of postscript. When confronting false teaching, we must be careful that we don’t characterize a person’s unintentional misstatement as a malicious falsehood. Malicious liars are very different from unclear communicators. One needs to be firmly rebuked. The other needs to be gently corrected. May we be wise enough to know the difference – and pastoral enough to care both for those who teach and for those who are taught.

__________________________

[1] Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition, Paul McCain, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 391 (LC 284).

March 9, 2015 at 4:15 am Leave a comment

Why Brian Williams Is Just Like You (And Vice Versa)

Brian WilliamsSix months. That’s how long NBC has suspended Brian Williams, the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, in response to inaccurate statements he made about riding in a Chinook helicopter that was hit by an RPG while reporting from Iraq in 2003.[1]

Before I proceed any farther with this story, a bit of disclosure: I like Brian Williams. I have been watching Brian, and before him Tom Brokaw, on NBC Nightly News for years. I suspect I’m not the only one.

But this blog is not so much about the misdeeds and subsequent suspension of Brian Williams as it is about the public response to the misdeeds and subsequent suspension of Brian Williams. Two primary responses to this debacle seem to have emerged.

The first is that of antipathy. On Twitter, whole hashtags are devoted to ripping Williams for his sloppy retelling of his time in Iraq. The crush of critics reveling in what can only be described as a psychotic schadenfreude is unnerving to newsmen such as Bill O’Reilly, who told Jimmy Kimmel: “Anybody who is enjoying the destruction of this man — you got to look at yourself. And there’s a lot of people who seem to be real happy his career is going down the drain. That disturbs me.”[2] I couldn’t agree more. The prophet Obadiah warns, “You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over…people… in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble” (Obadiah 12). But this is exactly what some people are doing. They are filled with gleeful antipathy.

But this isn’t the only response to this sordid affair. There’s another, much more supportive response to the embattled reporter – that of sympathy. Some folks have rallied to Williams’ side, especially on the Facebook page for Nightly News. Again and again, supporters have commented, “Bring back Brian Williams!!!!!!” (Sometimes, their messages have included even more exclamation points). These people are willing to overlook Williams’ faux pas and offer their unreserved, untempered support. They feel bad for the news anchor and believe his actions should get a pass.

Honestly, I am not comfortable with either of these responses. The antipathy of some smacks of an arrogant judgmentalism while the sympathy of others seems to be little more than a sappy sentimentalism. As Christians, I believe the best thing we can offer Brian Williams – and others caught in similar transgressions – is our empathy.

Though the word “empathy” was coined only at the beginning of the twentieth century, it is an important and helpful term to describe the similarities between others and ourselves. When we understand how much we share in common with others, it helps us help others. This is part of what the preacher of Hebrews says constitutes the very heart of Jesus’ ministry: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet He did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus, through His incarnation, empathizes with us. He puts Himself in our place and knows exactly how we feel. He then helps us accordingly.

So what does it mean to empathize with Brian Williams? It means we need to admit that we, like he, are prone to yarn spinning. It means we need to be willing to say, to borrow a mantra from the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, “Je suis Brian Williams.” Those who are highly antipathetic toward Brian Williams seem to have forgotten this. From their perch of righteous indignation, they throw stones, ignoring that their perch sits in a glass house. The apostle Paul’s words are especially apropos here: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1).

But true empathy goes farther than just identifying with another person. True empathy leads to helping that person. How can we help Brian Williams? In the same way Jesus helps us. He calls us to repentance. This is where folks highly sympathetic to Brian Williams go wrong. In their zeal to support the anchor, they have minimized and rationalized his sin.

I find it hopeful that in a statement released by Steve Burke, CEO and President of NBC Universal, Mr. Burke indicated that Brian “shared his deep remorse with me and he is committed to winning back everyone’s trust.”[3] Remorse can be well and good, but not unless it is what Paul calls “Godly sorrow [that] brings repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). My prayer is that Brian Williams’ remorse is a Godly remorse.

Do you know what the best part of repentance for Brian Williams will be? At this point, Brian has no guarantee that his suspension will not ultimately become his termination. NBC has refused to guarantee his position. But even if NBC says, “You’re fired,” in repentance, Jesus says, “You’re forgiven.” And that’s better than any anchor chair. And that’s a promise good not only for a national news anchor, but for low-profile, everyday sinners like you and me.

_____________________________

[1] Roger Yu and Melanie Eversley, “NBC: Brian Williams suspended for six months,” USA Today (2.11.2015).

[2]Bill O’Reilly says Brian Williams ‘made a mistake,’ not sure he will keep job,” Fox News (2.10.2015).

[3] Erik Wemple, “How can NBC News’s Brian Williams ‘win back everyone’s trust’ from the beach?Washington Post (2.10.2015).

February 16, 2015 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Pursuit of Perfection

Credit: nsunews.nova.edu

Credit: nsunews.nova.edu

Somehow, I knew just by the title of the article that “Confessions of a Mormon housewife” was not going be particularly titillating reading. And sure enough, I was right. This Mormon housewife’s confession was that when she became sick, and when ladies from her ward came to visit her, she “started to become insecure with [her] appearance and the state of [her] home.”[1]  Jill Strassburg, the housewife in question, explains:

When they would come visit me, they were completely “put together,” and I began to think that they were perfect.

So I stopped answering my door. I didn’t want them to see me sick or see that the house wasn’t cleaned up. The thoughts I was having made me feel like I was, somehow, less of a woman.

I was beginning to realize that I was living in a culture of attaining perfection. And I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?

On the one hand, when I read Jill’s confession of worry over the cleanliness of her home, I think of Johann von Staupitz’s admonition to Martin Luther. Exasperated by Luther’s overwhelming guilty conscience and never-ending confessions, Staupitz eventually quips:

Look here, brother Martin. If you’re going to confess so much, why don’t you go do something worth confessing? Kill your mother or father! Commit adultery! Quit coming in here with such peccadillos![2]

Worry, although definitely a sin according to Jesus in Matthew 6:25, is also a societally safe sin. No one has ever been jailed or shunned for worry.

On the other hand, the nature of her sin aside, Jill’s question haunts me: “I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?”

This is a profound question. But Jill’s answer leaves me puzzled. She writes: “While I’m not a historian, scholar or official representative for the LDS church, I think this obsession with perfection is rooted in the church’s historical values and traditions.” She goes on to talk about how Mormon women “followed traditional roles of womanhood” and how the church still promotes “traditional values.” But traditional gender roles and values are not the same thing as perfection. A person can be traditional without aspiring to or feeling pressured to be perfect.

I can’t help but think that the true culprit of the Mormon quest for perfection is theological. Indeed, foundational to Mormonism’s doctrine of salvation is a striving for perfection. Consider this from the Book of Mormon:

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is His grace sufficient for you, that by His grace ye may be perfect in Christ.[3]

According to the Book of Mormon, God has grace for a person unto salvation, but only after he has denied all ungodliness and loved God with everything in him. In other words, God has grace for you, but only if you’re perfect – or at least pretty close to it.

How do you know when you’ve denied enough ungodliness and loved God to such an extent that God’s grace will be sufficient for you? Herein lies Mormonism’s existential crisis that results in its relentless pursuit of perfection. Mormons cannot know whether or not they will be good enough to merit God’s grace. They can only wish and hope.

Jill finally admits:

We all know that perfection is unattainable, but we should still strive to be the best we can be every day. If we could actually be perfect, there would be nothing to work toward. There wouldn’t be anything left to gain from this life that we live.

Jill knows she can’t be perfect. But in her mind, that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try.

Holy Scripture paints quite a different picture from the Book of Mormon of what it means to pursue perfection: “When perfection comes, the imperfect disappears” (1 Corinthians 13:10). Paul says perfection is not something to be pursued, but a promise that will pursue us and come to us on the Last Day. Indeed, more than that, perfection is a person who will pursue us and come to us on the Last Day when Jesus comes for us on the Last Day. This is why, finally, I’m not really interested in attaining some depersonalized virtue of perfection. I’m much more interested in Jesus. In my mind, being forgiven by a perfect Savior is much better – and a lot less stressful – than trying to be a perfect person.

I pray Jill comes to the same realization.

_________________________________

[1] Jill Strasburg, “Confessions of a Mormon housewife,” CNN (10.2.2014).

[2] Gerald R. McDermott, The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 83.

[3] Moroni 10:32.

October 13, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Mark Driscoll’s Fruit Punch

Credit: Mars Hill Church

Credit: Mars Hill Church

Jesus once explained how the world could recognize His disciples: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). “Fruit,” of course, is what the apostle Paul describes as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Thus, if others want to know whether or not a person follows Jesus, they need only to look at how he acts.

Of course, there is a little more to it than just this. Because even people who follow Jesus do not always bear the kind of fruit Paul enumerates. Indeed, even Paul himself admits, “What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). Paul’s spiritual fruit is more like a fruit punch – a mix of good fruit and bad fruit, righteous fruit and sinful fruit.

This past week has been a tough one for Mars Hill Church of Seattle. Last Sunday, its pastor, Mark Driscoll, announced to the congregation that he will be taking at least six weeks away from the pulpit, explaining:

Storm clouds seem to be whirling around me more than ever in recent months and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it …

Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style, and while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting I am deserving of some of these criticisms based on my own past actions that I am sorry for …

I have requested a break for processing, healing, and growth for a minimum of six weeks while the leadership assigned by our bylaws conduct a thorough examination of accusations against me.[1]

Usually, when a pastor steps away from his pulpit because of some controversy or scandal, it makes no news. But Mars Hill Church is one of America’s most famous congregations. Thus, the controversy surrounding Driscoll has been very public – front page of The New York Times public, in fact. Two days before Driscoll announced his leave of absence, the Times published an exposé:

Mark Driscoll has long been an evangelical bad boy, a gifted orator and charismatic leader who built one of the nation’s most influential megachurches despite, or perhaps fueled by, a foul mouth, a sharp temper and frank talk about sex …

But now Mr. Driscoll’s empire appears to be imploding. He has been accused of creating a culture of fear at the church, of plagiarizing, of inappropriately using church funds and of consolidating power to such a degree that it has become difficult for anyone to challenge or even question him. A flood of former Mars Hill staff members and congregants have come forward, primarily on the Internet but also at a protest in front of the church, to share stories of what they describe as bullying or “spiritual abuse,” and 21 former pastors have filed a formal complaint in which they call for Mr. Driscoll’s removal as the church’s leader.

Mr. Driscoll is rapidly becoming a pariah in the world that once cheered him.[2]

When The New York Times says your empire is “imploding” and calls you a “pariah,” that’s not good. But this is what Mark Driscoll is now facing.

As I’ve been reading people’s comments on Driscoll’s absence from Mars Hill’s pulpit, it’s been fascinating to read both the comments of his fervent supporters as well as those of his vociferous detractors. On Mark Driscoll’s Facebook page, people came out with glowing messages of support and prayer:

BEST BIBLE TEACHER EVER! Love you pastor Mark, thanks for teaching me how to man up and love Jesus and my family! Your sermons helped me through one of the most difficult moments in my life. I thank God for your faithfulness in teaching his word and I can’t wait to see you come back and do more amazing things!

And this:

Pastor Mark, I got baptized a few years back with Mars Hill on Easter and my now husband got baptized this past Easter. What makes it even more amazing is that after he got baptized he turned and baptized his 9 year old son … You have changed us and my marriage is truly saved by the grace of God but we wouldn’t have gotten here if it wasn’t for your teachings.[3]

On a blog critical of Mark Driscoll, readers can be treated to comments like this:

Driscoll needs to step down for good, not for 6 weeks. The man is dangerous. He has fired high ranking members of his staff on the spot, and created a culture of spiritual abuse disguised as “church discipline.” He is mean, he has publicly insulted “effeminate worship leaders” and implied Ted Haggard’s homosexuality
was the result of “wives who let themselves go,” to name but a few of many highlights.

And this:

[Mark] has repeatedly found himself embroiled in accusations of abuse, stealing others intellectual property, fleecing his church to pay for his best seller status, fleecing his church with his fake global fund … He has lived more as a son of the devil than the son of GOD.[4]

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground when it comes to opinions about Mark Driscoll. Even his apology has gotten mixed reviews. Some people believe Driscoll has sincerely repented of his sin and is the best man to lead Mars Hill Church while others doubt Mark’s sincerity. One person commented, “I listened to Mark’s ‘apology’ and I didn’t see any repentance.”[5]

So what are we to make of all this?

In a sentence, I would say: Mark Driscoll has made fruit punch. Like the apostle Paul, Mark has born both good fruit and bad fruit, righteous fruit and sinful fruit. And whether or not you applaud or denounce him has to do with what fruit of his you are looking at. To only applaud his good fruit while ignoring his bad is to make an idol out of him. Only Jesus bears only good fruit. But to only denounce his bad fruit while overlooking his good is to stand in self-righteous condemnation of him. We must never forget that it’s not only Mark Driscoll who makes fruit punch. We do too.

So from one fruit-punch-making pastor to another I say, “Mark, I’m praying for you. And, I’m praying that the team of overseers who are reviewing the charges against you make a decision that is best for you, for Mars Hill, and for the glory of God’s Kingdom.” Then, for all Christians who make fruit punch – and we all do – I am also praying. I am praying that we would continue to be “transformed into [the Lord’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) until our fruit punch becomes the Spirit’s pure fruit in heaven.

_______________________________________

[1] Mark Driscoll, “An Update From Pastor Mark,” marshill.com (8.24.2014).

[2] Michael Paulson, “A Brash Style That Filled Pews, Until Followers Had Their Fill,” The New York Times (8.22.2014).

[3] facebook.com/pastormark

[4] Warren Throckmorton, “Announcement: Mark Driscoll Will Take At Least Six Weeks Off,” patheos.com (8.24.2014).

[5] Celeste Gracey, “Forgiving My Pastor, Mark Driscoll,” Christianity Today (August 2014).

September 1, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Robin Williams: 1951-2014

Robin Williams

Credit: Ticketmaster

I first heard of Robin Williams’ untimely death thanks to Facebook. My wife Melody was scrolling through her newsfeed when she let out a gasp of disbelief and exclaimed, “Robin Williams died?!” My immediate thought was, “That’s fake.” Celebrity death hoaxes are common, after all. On Facebook alone, I’ve learned of the Rock’s death while filming Fast and Furious 7. I’ve read of Sylvester Stallone’s demise in a snowboarding accident. And I’ve heard that Miley Cyrus took her own life. Of course, none of these death stories are true. But I found out very quickly that Robin Williams’ death story was.

As the world began to grieve, the gruesome details began to emerge. The Marin County, California Police Department held a press conference in which they offered up details – perhaps, too many details – on Williams’ demise. Whatever the gory specifics might be, the overarching cause of death is tragically clear. Robin Williams died by suicide.

Suicide.

Just the word makes people shudder. And ponder. And question.

There are two questions that people often ask me whenever an individual – or, in the case of Robin Williams, a culture – is confronted by the harsh realities of suicide. The first is an explicitly Christian question while the second is more generally transcendent.

First, people ask me, “Can a person who commits suicide go to heaven?”

The short answer to this question is, simply, “yes.” From a theological perspective, all of us commit what I call “slow-motion suicide.” Scripture is clear that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Do we know this? Yes. Do we still sin intentionally and willingly? Yes. Thus, we’re killing ourselves with sin. The only difference between what we do to ourselves and what Robin Williams did last Sunday evening is the speed with which he did it. He took his life quickly. We take our lives bit-by-bit, sin-by-sin. If the person who takes his life in an instant can’t be saved, neither can the person who takes his life over decades. News of a suicide, then, is never an opportunity for judgment, but a call to introspection.

I should add that, when Jesus speaks of His forgiveness, He never singles out suicide as some sort of an unforgivable sin. Jesus declares, “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them” (Mark 3:28). How many sins does the word “all” include? All of them. Even suicide. Thus, a person who takes his own life can be forgiven by Jesus and saved by Jesus just as well as any other sinner can.  If you want to know more about suicide from a theological perspective, you can check out a blog I wrote a couple of years ago here.

Second, people ask me, “Why?” Why would a person who had so much going for him snuff out his life so recklessly?

The question of “why” has become especially acute in Robin Williams’ case because he left no note. Sadly, where facts are in short supply, gossip and speculation are plenty. I would point out, however, that even when a note is left, the question of “why” is still left unanswered. Even if a person writes of “having nothing left to live for,” or how “people will be better off without me,” those left behind still wonder: “Why didn’t he realize that he had so much to live for?” Or, “Why didn’t he realize what his death would do to us – how it would tear us apart?”

I have come to understand that the question of “why,” when it comes to suicide, has no answer – mainly because the suicidal person himself cannot answer the question. The darkness and confusion that surrounds a person when he takes his own life is so deep that genuine reasoning falters under the crushing weight of depression.

So where does all this leave us? Allow me to offer two parting thoughts.

First, a thought to those contemplating suicide: suicide is a lie of Satan. Satan entices people into suicide by making promises to “free you” or “fix you.” But he wants no such thing for you. He only wants to end you. This is why he seeks to either kill us slowly by enticing us into sin after sin or, if he can, he’ll be delighted to kill us quickly at the bottom of the barrel of a gun or by the brink of a blade. So, if you are contemplating suicide, remember: everything it promises is a lie. Get help from someone who will tell you the truth.

Second, a thought to those who have lost loved ones to suicide: life is the truth of our God. God is the master of snatching life out of the jaws of death. He did it with His Son. And He can do it with those who take their own lives. Indeed, on the Last Day, He will do it with all who trust in Him. Wherever Satan peddles his lies, God crushes them with His truth. And His truth is this: by faith in Christ, your loved one is not beyond hope. Suicidal sinners can be saved too.

I’m looking forward to seeing more than a few of them in heaven.

August 18, 2014 at 5:15 am 3 comments

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