A nice middle aged man came up to me and with tears in his eyes related that his life had been changed by something I had said many years ago. I asked what I had said, and when he told me the details, I honestly couldn’t remember saying such a thing. But to him it had been powerful, said in the right way and at the right time, and I was grateful that it had happened.
A man and his wife said to me that a few words I had said on the radio had been used to comfort them at a time of sorrow in their lives. I rejoiced.
A lady stopped me in the aisle of a store, and in tears said that something I had done was her motivation to keep going and to not give up. It really made me feel good.
A young man called me crying and said that he was promising me that his life was about to change as a result of a column I had written. I was filled with gratitude and encouragement.
But wait – I really would rather not tell the whole story, but I must. The complete truth is that there are also some who, because of me, have been offended. The hypocrisies and inconsistencies of my life have alienated some people. My own selfishness, my controlling ways, my insistence that I was a hundred percent right, have made some people decide that they could not really listen to anything I had to say. That is the part that I don’t rejoice in. There have been times when I wondered if the only real ministry I could ever have would be to serve as a bad example.
Am I a great and effective leader and spokesman for truth and for God? Am I a gift to people, a blessing from above, a profound and thoughtful man of truth and faith and love and spirituality?
Or am I a hypocrite, a shyster, a phony, unworthy and unqualified and unable to really help anybody?
The truth is that I am neither. And the truth is that I am both.
And here is the ironic, paradoxical thing, which I hope that I can explain without confusing anybody: When I think that I’m the good guy- I’m the bad guy. When I think that I’m the bad guy- I’m the good guy. If I start to think of myself as good and obedient and right and righteous- if I start to think of myself as “God’s gift to poor dumb sinners”, I am not the solution to anything- I am the problem. My arrogance will know no bounds. The people I hurt will be many. And I will think that all of them are wrong, but I am right.
On the other hand, if I can remember that I am just a messed up person, often weak, often wrong, often sinful and always unworthy, and if I can honestly and humbly remember that, I can help somebody along the way. And I won’t even know that I’m doing it until I hear about it later.
Steve Brown has often said, “The best thing you’ve got going for you spiritually is your sin, when you know about it. And the worst thing going against you spiritually is your obedience, when you know about it.”
Saint Paul put it this way, “I glory in my weaknesses and failures and reproaches, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me- for when I am weak, only then am I strong.” The old spiritual song said it so well: “Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, oh Lord- standin’ in the need of prayer.” A classic “Pogo” cartoon once said, “We have come face-to-face with the enemy, and he is us!’
May I tell you a secret? Nobody but nobody has a handle on the Almighty. If you can understand or explain everything about God, you need to get a bigger one, because the one you have is not God. Some things will always be a mystery. Some things we will never get right. As long as we live on this earth, there will be areas in which you and I will really fall on our face. Accept it. We’re not home yet.
I may get in trouble for saying this, but Jesus did not come to give us all the answers, or to fix our jobs or our marriages or our finances. He didn’t come to give me great success, or to help our football team to win, or even to make your church grow. He didn’t come to lower taxes, to take over politics, or to fill the Supreme Court with conservatives or liberals. Forgive me, but He didn’t even come to “bless America”. He came to show us what a loving God was like, and to forgive all the people who are so absolutely messed up, guilty, and unworthy. Not surprisingly, the sinners loved Him, but the saints killed Him.
Be very careful of people who would have you to believe that they have all of the answers, with no uncertainty, and no sin in their life. That kind of person is very dangerous. Watch out for him. Even if he is us.
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