Carry the burden...

Today's thought:

Galatians 6:1-2, "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

I know a man who made a huge mistake. It was a spectacular mess that devastated the lives of those who knew him and, in particularly, his family. On top of that colossal failure he was, in no certain terms, shunned by his church. That told him that this sin was terminal, unforgivable. That lead not only to having to deal with his sin but to do it all while loosing his faith. The word "unforgivable" sank deep into his soul. Even when he asked God for forgiveness, even when he worked through the repercussions of his sin, even when he admitted his failure and did his best to do what was right, in his soul he felt unforgivable and that was a leach that attached itself to his soul and sucked him dry for years to come. In the end he turned from the church for a season and it took a Herculean effort to try and restore his relationship with God. I know of other simular situations where that restoration never came.

Why is it that the church, which should be a hospital for the sick, is the most judgmental? Why should those who have an open door to God, the only place where grace and mercy can be found, should close that door on someone? According to the Bible only blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unforgivable (Matthew 12:31). Many even debate what that is. It was a statement made to the Jewish leaders who said that Jesus had cast out demons by the power of Satan. Most scholars agree that a believer, even a fallen one struggling with their faith, have not and cannot commit such a sin. So, a church closing its doors upon someone who has sinned and has repented is itself sinning and condemning itself.

Though the Bible does talk about "church discipline" (see 1 Corinthians 5:5 and then 2 Corinthians 2:7-8) it was only to bring a person to repentance. Once a person is repentant that person should be restored in love. Paul says all we do, as the church, should be done with the goal of restoration of the person to God. "Restore that person gently," he says. When a church fails to do this, when they deal with a sinner without restoration as the goal, it is the same as judging that persons eternal salvation. Jesus tells us, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." To restore a person gently is not to judge. To do otherwise is to judge and those who do so will incur judgement upon themselves.

We all will fail. Some failures are quiet and hidden. They are not public. God does not say that some sins are worse because they are public and others we can sweep under the rug because they are private. All sin separates us from God. All sin must be repented of, turned from and comfessed before God. He gives us the promise, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Therefore, the job of the authentic Christian is to restore the person who has sinned as a sick person telling another where to get a cure. In this way we carry each other's burdens and fulfil the law of Christ.

In Shepherd Leadership, authors McCormick and Davenport remind Christian leaders to allow for second chances and gently restore the fallen. They write: "Thomas Edison filed an impressive 1,093 patents with the U.S. Patent Office, and behind each one of those 1,093 successes lay hundreds and sometimes thousands of failures. Edison mastered the art of recovering from failure with lessons in hand and sought to pass it on to his workers. Near the end of his career, a former worker, Alfred Tate, penned the following letter to his former boss: "Above all you taught me not to be afraid of failure; that scars are sometimes as honorable as medals." [Blaine McCormick and David Davenport, Shepherd Leadership (Josey-Bass, 2003), p. 27; submitted by Rubel Shelly, Franklin, Tennessee]

Unless we show grace and love we are not reflecting God who is the giver of second, third and fiftieth chances. Restore gently. Bear the burden. Show love. Forgive. Then we will show the person of Jesus to a world who desperately needs God's offer of a new life and a second chance.

Prayer: Father, we see the log in our own eye. We are sinners one and all and need your grace and mercy. We make mistakes. We fall down. Help us to get up again. Help us to love those who also have fallen and help them up again. You went to such great lengths to restore us to you sending your Son to make it possible and there is no length that we should not go to achieve the same. We thank you for forgiveness through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.