Sunday, 22 July 2018

T The restoration of God's people

Our response to God's grace

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We are blind until God enables us to see. The thing that is blinding us are the lies we (choose to) believe. The congregations of today mostly look like a group of perfect and holy people, but I dare to say that behind the closed doors, there are many who take part in orgies, fornication, adultery, extramarital affairs, watching pornography and all other sorts of sexual sins. And those are just the sexual sins. There is no need to look further, because if those sins are present, all others are as well. They come together. It’s the same heart producing them all and if the heart has a free pass, it will just continue to build up. Don’t worry, it’s not my aim to accuse my brothers and sisters, but I do want to point out that there is a problem. 

We do try so hard to change ourselves. Many spend years or their whole life, trying to bring themselves in line with the laws of God. While we try that, we look around us in the body of Christ, to look at how other people do it. We look for examples that can help us. And when it doesn’t work, we do what many others do. We start to pretend and to ignore the sins. The burden of the sins became too heavy. But Jesus still looks at you with His eyes of compassion, inviting you to surrender control and to come to Him with your burdens. 

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

Our biggest problem is not only the sin, but the fact that we – the body of Christ – barely talk about it anymore. Sins are being hidden and we continue life as usual. Brothers and sisters don’t confess theirs sins to one another anymore. Neither do married couples and friends. And in many cases we don’t even confess the sin to God anymore. We just pretend it’s not there. But by pretending it’s not there, sin isn’t going away. It stays. In fact, it is the best fruitful soil for the sin to root even deeper. Now why would we do that? The answer is simple. It is the fear for rejection. And unfortunately, in many cases that fear is justified.

Especially in the case of sexual sins or sins that the church considers a severe sin, in so many cases you can expect the most fiercest response. Immediately all sorts of judgments and condemnations are coming your way. They talk about punishment, penance, rejection and sometimes even about eternal condemnation. Now test that sort of behavior by comparing it to the character of God. Is it aimed at forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration? No, it is not. Then what is it? It is the fruit of the enemy, the accuser, the one who wants to punish and destroy. 

One of the ways to keep our own sins hidden is by magnifying the sins of others. The more we have to hide, the more sins we are willing to commit in order to protect our own lies. That is what’s causing spiritual blindness. In other words, the more fierce a reaction is, the more there is to hide. Many Christians are willing to punish ‘that sinner’, in order to keep the attention away from their selves. We have all seen it happen. We have all seen how we, the body of Christ, deal with our fallen brothers and sisters. In most cases, those people are not around anymore. They were removed from our midst or left on their own initiative. But was it because they refused to repent, or because they received an unbearable amount of condemnation? Now what was the sort of response that Jesus gave to these ‘dirty sinners’?

When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
John 8:10-11

Several years ago I was part of a charismatic Church here in The Netherlands. At the end of the service I stood outside, with a group of smokers. At some point a steward approached us and said that we were supposed to stand a lot further away from the building. Otherwise people might think we belonged to the congregation, and that would give the congregation a bad image. The message beneath that question was: “You don’t belong to this congregation. You are sinners. We don’t want you. We have to accept you and thus we will tolerate you. But we don’t have to accept that you’re standing here, while everyone sees your sinful behavior.” At least he was honest about his motivation, while representing the motivation of the Church. Unfortunately I responded from the same motivation, when I asked him how what we were doing was any different from what he was doing behind his pc, late at night. His face turned red, he turned around, walked away and never approached us again. You see how easy it is to turn the attention away from ourselves? Because suddenly, now I look good. But what I’ve said wasn’t aimed at restoration either. 

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16

I do understand why this congregation wanted to show themselves to the world. And I do understand that they only wanted to show what they considered as their ‘good works’. I get that. But this way of doing that is just a masquerade. As soon as people see it and want to become a part of the congregation, they are suddenly confronted with a whole lot of different stuff then what they saw from the outside. We are under a magnifying glass. The world is watching us. And what they see is, in most cases, not exactly attractive. Why? Because in so many cases what they see is not real. It’s fake. 

While Jesus walked on earth, He did not avoid sinners. In fact, He was to be found among them. He befriended the sort of people that were considered as the worst of all. Prostitutes and tax collectors. The sort of people with the most severe sexual and financial sins. And He wasn’t afraid to be seen with them. He wasn’t afraid what the people would think or say about Him or about His image. This was the way Jesus showed Himself to the world. As a Friend of sinners. He was not to be found among those who considered themselves ‘righteous’. In these times, eating together was one of the closest forms of relationship. And Jesus took the time to sit down and to eat with those sinners. Why did He do that? Because they realized they needed Him. 

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.
Matthew 9:12-13

I desire mercy… That was the example Jesus gave. He did not only say it, He showed it. He searched for the honor and value in people. Sure there was sin in their lives. And yes they were guilty of that. Still Jesus choose to look beyond that, to something that was honorable and valuable is His eyes. He looked at who they were instead of what they did. He loved the people and He attracted them by showing them Who He was. He did not just say He loved them and He did not just say He accepted them. He showed it through everything He did. The Word and He were and are One.

The word tolerance has become a political correct way to say that we permit people to be around us and take part in our community. But the heart of tolerance is that we feel better than the ones we tolerate. And that is how ‘sinners’ are often treated. But God goes so much further. He does not tolerate us, He accepts us. Not because of what we do, but because of who we are. The world is an extremely unsafe place to be at. But if there’s a place where it should be safe to come as you are, with all your sins, then it should be the body of Christ. It is up to us to surrender our whole selves to God and to ask for His help, in order to have that safe environment. 

Our response to grace should be to pay it forward. The more grace we’ve received, the more we have to give. That’s why I don’t look down to leaders who have fallen. When they repent and when they allow the process of healing and restoration to have its way, they will become much stronger. It is political correctness that demands from us that we publicly take distance from a person and condemn what they did. It is politics that only gives you one shot and that excludes you forever when you fall. The Kingdom of God is not build with politics, but with grace. God is always aimed at restoration. 

When someone falls, they need someone to stand next to them, not someone who exalts himself above them. We don’t even have to convince that person of sin. The only thing we have to do is to testify what the Holy Spirit lays in us at that moment. It is the Holy Spirit Who will convince this person, just like He convinces us of sin. When someone approaches us with sin, there is no need for conviction. The whole reason why they come to us is because they are convinced and because God wants to lead them into repentance and towards restoration. You are the tool to help them with that, and the tool God wants to use to show His mercy towards that person. You are the representative of God. What He asks from us is to give the same sort of grace that He gave us. That is the sort of grace that forgives all and offers nothing less than full restoration, even with increase. 

Consequences are only needed when someone is not willing to repent, and only with the aim to bring them back to their senses. In any other case, consequences are out of the question. Your brother or sister realized what he/she did and wants to change his/her mind about it. That is a gain for the Kingdom, not a loss. Let them come back into the full acceptance of the congregation, and let the work of God has its way in them. Let us stand around them in prayer and encouragement. We all have the same heart that produces the same sorts of sin. We all need the same grace, so we all need to be willing to give nothing less than the same grace. That is one of the expressions of the love of God towards us and through us, to other people. 

The ultimate blueprint of our relationship with other people is the one that Jesus gave us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). When we were living in sin and when there was no righteousness in us, Jesus did the unthinkable. He choose to give His life anyway. That is the most extreme form of selflessness. We weren’t and aren’t even able to change ourselves. Still He did it.

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Romans 5:9-11

We are the city on the hill. The Light that Jesus talked about is that the world may see His work through us. His love and grace for us, working through us to one another. That is how the world can see that Jesus, His love and His grace are real. The biggest testimony, the sort of testimony that ruins all doubts about Jesus, is the one where we can really testify that Jesus changed us and where people are actually able to see and witness it.

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