The lost sheep...

Today's thought:

Luke 15:4-7, "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."

Maybe you remember the 1987 Donna Rice scandal. In 1988 George H.W. Bush was elected President of the United States, but in 1987 the frontrunner for the Democrats was a senator from Colorado named Gary Hart. After rumors surfaced about extramarital affairs, Hart famously dared reporters to follow him, so they did. Two reporters from The Miami Herald saw a young woman leaving Hart's Washington, D.C. townhouse on the evening of May 2nd. The woman was 29-year-old Donna Rice. A few days later the media revealed that Hart had spent a night in a yacht called the Monkey Business with Ms. Rice. Pictures of Rice sitting on Hart's lap made front-page news around the nation.

Senator Hart's presidential bid imploded, but whatever happened to Donna Rice? In 2013 she explained how she had wandered from and returned to her faith in Christ:

"Toward the end of my college career, I started making these little left hand turns. Before long I was dating some non-Christian guys and thought, "That's not a big deal." It's hard to believe how you can go from here to there—you don't go there overnight, you go there by little wrong choices. I saw Hart only twice, but … God was trying to get my attention prior to that, and it took an international sex scandal because I was stubborn. God will track you down. He will let things happen, the natural consequences of our choices."

Rice began her journey back to the Lord, living under the media's radar for seven years, caring for a disabled woman, getting married, and then becoming president of Enough Is Enough. Now the media seeks out Donna Rice Hughes not for her sexual scandals but for her expertise in promoting internet safety and sexual wholeness. Donna said, "Oddly, I was Miss Scandal Queen 1987 and now I'm seen as this voice of decency and morality. That's a God thing." [Marvin Olasky, "Coming Home," World (2-9-13)]

God is a seeker of the lost. He will go to great lengths to hunt you down, sling you to his shoulders and bring you home. He can use your mistake, your misstep, your mess up to bring something positive and good—something completely unexpected. God can change everything. We only need to go back home and start again.

Prayer: Father God, you are the God of the second (and third and fourth) chanceS. We thank you that you can change life all around. That you find us when we've wondered off and bring us back home amazes us. You change everything. What an incredible hope we have in you. Keep us on the path today and turn our failures into good. In Jesus name, amen.

Not a do-it-yourself project...

Today’s thought:

Philippians 1:4-6, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

For nearly a hundred years a beautiful mural of Jesus had held pride of place in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Borja, Spain. The "Ecce Homo" (Behold the Man) painting, was completed by Elias Garcia Martinez in the 1930s. A well known master painter. A priceless work of art.

But in August of 2012, an 80-year-old church member named Cecilia Gimenez took it upon herself to touch up the painting. She was right about one thing: the painting needed some work. After decades of moisture buildup, the painting had started to deteriorate, and the colors had started to fade. So Cecilia initiated her do-it-yourself restoration project.

Despite her good intentions, it didn't turn out well. The New York Times said that it was "probably the worst art restoration project of all time." A Spanish blog called it "the restoration that turned into destruction." And a BBC article said, "The delicate brushstrokes by Elias Garcia Martinez have been buried under a haphazard splattering of paint. The once-dignified portrait [of Jesus] now resembles a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic."

But Cecilia was quoted as saying, "We've always fixed everything ourselves in this church." Not wise. Art restoration is possibly one of the most delicate and demanding tasks a person could attempt. Only a master can fix a masterpiece. Some projects in life are just beyond a do-it-yourself approach. 

We are all restoration projects. Ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden we have been part of the most massive and delicate restoration process imaginable--the restoration of us to God. When Jesus came to bring that restoration process to a historical climax he came as an example of the the Master’s perfect picture of man. From then on we all are to be restored to his image, or as Romans 8:29 tells us, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Jesus is the ideal to which we all must be conformed. To be restored to his image is an art restoration project of the highest order. It is the project of a lifetime and not even Paul had thought he had achieved it. He said, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). If Paul has not achieved perfect Christ-likeness neither have we. But we are promised the project will be completed when in 1 John 3:2 it says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” And God will be faithful to complete this project in us.

The key, then, is in realizing that this is not a do-it-yourself project. Only a Master can restore a masterpiece. The Pharisees thought they had done a good job. From the outside they did look good. Yet, Jesus said to them, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27b). This project is an internal restoration. Once the inside is restored then the outside will naturally appear clean. I do not believe we can change ourselves from the inside out. That is why we have the Holy Spirit. His job is to work from the inside out to restore us to the Master’s image of Jesus Christ. Submit to the work. Undergo and endure the sometimes painful, sometimes delicate, sometimes subtle, but always transforming touch of God. Trust Him. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Prayer: Father, we long to be like our big brother Jesus. We want to walk so close behind him that it will be hard to tell where he ends and we begin. Transform us, restore us, into his image. We trust that You are working and are faithful. You will complete what You have begun and we long for that day. Lord Jesus, come quickly. In Jesus name, amen.

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.