Steve’s Letter – November 2014
NOVEMBER 3, 2014
I carry a flash drive with me almost everywhere. I use three different computers and the flash drive contains my current work. It enables me to carry a pile of work in my pocket wherever I go and work wherever I am. Every once in a while, I go over the multiple files on the flash drive and clean up (delete) stuff (sermons, papers, articles, etc.) I’ve finished. Yesterday I noticed that there was a “Disclaimers” file on my flash drive.
I have no idea what was in that file—and didn’t check before deleting it—but that file got me thinking about disclaimers. Sometimes a sovereign God speaks in very pedestrian ways.
A disclaimer is a statement releasing someone from responsibility.
You’ve heard the disclaimer sometimes used on various television and radio programs: “The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the owners, management and staff of this station.” Translation: These people are whackos and we know it, but we needed the money. I saw a disclaimer on a legal blog the other day that read, “The information, comments and links posted on this blog do not constitute legal advice.” Translation: We don’t know what we’re doing. Be careful or you could end up in jail. Have you noticed the disclaimers they put on advertisements for medications? “This product may cause headaches, drowsiness or severe pain…and even death. Consult your physician before taking this or any other medication.” Translation: You’re going to die but it’s not our fault. And then there are the disclaimers attached to vitamin supplements: “These products are not intended to diagnose, cure, prevent or treat any health-related symptoms or diseases.” Translation: Are you crazy?
And then there are the stop-smoking pills that people keep pushing on me. “Steve,” they say, “I know you want to stop smoking your pipe (no, I don’t) and these pills will help.” Have you ever read the disclaimer on this stuff? (I’m not making this up.) “Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed moods, suicidal thoughts or actions while using [this product] to help them quit smoking. If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression, or changes in behavior, thinking, or mood that are not typical for you, or you develop suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, panic, aggression, anger, mania, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia, or confusion, stop taking [this product] and consult your physician immediately.”
Good heavens! That makes me so nervous I think I’ll have a smoke.
There are disclaimers in the Bible too. Do you remember what Aaron said to Moses when Moses came down from the mountain and found the people worshiping a golden calf (Exodus 32:22-24)? Aaron said to Moses, “You know the people, that they are set on evil.” Then the mother of all disclaimers: “So I threw it [the gold] into the fire, and out came this calf.” There is, of course, the disclaimer of Pilate who could have saved Jesus; but instead, washed his hands and said, “I am innocent…see to it yourselves” (Matthew 27:24). Even Paul had a disclaimer (one as true as Pilate’s was false) when he met with the Ephesian elders at Miletus and said, “I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27).
Where in the world are you going with this, Steve?
Let me tell you. As I was thinking about disclaimers, I realized that, properly understood, the Christian life is a life without disclaimers. In other words, I don’t have to pretend anymore, make excuses anymore, cover my tracks anymore or protect myself anymore. It’s why Paul could call himself “the chief of sinners” and even make an embarrassing confession in Romans 7.
One time the late Christian psychiatrist, Paul Tournier, was asked if he knew of people who were hypocrites and didn’t “walk the talk” of the Christian faith. “Of course I do,” he said, “me!” Isn’t that refreshing? “It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer” goes the old spiritual, “not my brother, nor my sister; not my father, nor my mother; not the elder, nor the deacon…but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
This past week I talked to a good friend who went through one of the most horrifying experiences anyone can face. We talked, prayed and wept together. His sin (and it was bad) was publicly revealed. Not only that, his church required that he confess before the entire church (a practice with which I have some serious problems). We all have secrets that shame us and the thought of our secrets being revealed to everybody is scary. What a nightmare!
His nightmare became the reality.
That’s bad, but God grew a flower in that horrible soil. Let me give you part of what my friend wrote to his church:
Every part of me wants to flee this town and never have to look anyone in the face again. I’ve begged God to let me go, but I’m still here.
This morning I woke thinking of the parallels in my life and my father’s life and what is happening now. I am in the middle of a scandal in the same town he was over thirty years ago. I always swore I’d never be as stupid as he was, yet here I am. I’m faced with choices: I could blame others as my father did and die a slow, miserable death being eaten away with the acid of bitterness. I could commit suicide, leaving my family with nothing. Or I could give it—my shame, my fear and my guilt—to the only one who can carry it.
[My friend had, all his life, tried to hold it together on the outside. He then wrote that he once spilled a bucket of paint in the garage and his father was livid. He wrote that he had been working hard not to spill paint all his life and…] I’m so very tired of doing it. As a matter of fact, I can’t anymore.
The words I am sorry seem too shallow, and I’m very sorry for not loving all of you. There is no excuse, but there is relief. Jesus said, “It is finished.” I’m here because I believe that. In this knowledge I am breaking the generational chains that have held me captive my entire life. I’m finally loved.
Frankly, my friend paid a big price for it (one you and I both hope we never have to pay), but he is now free. With the emancipated slave, he can shout: “I’m free! I’m free! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!”
The Christian life is living life without disclaimers.
It’s a pretty “heady” place to live.
When I was a young pastor, my late mentor, Dr. John Stanton, told me, “Steve, don’t ever tell people you’re a pastor; but if they find out, don’t let them be surprised.” That was good advice even though I’ve taken it some places that would surprise Dr. Stanton. He meant I should be so good and pure that if people found out I was a pastor, they would say, “But of course.” Maybe the truth is I should live a life so free and without disclaimers that when people find out I’m a Christian, they will finally start asking the right questions.
One time someone at a conference introduced R.C. Sproul with these words: “This evening we are fortunate to have with us a man who has impacted culture, countries and our generation…someone who is loved by countless people…someone who has literally changed the world. His name is Jesus, and here’s Dr. R.C. Sproul to tell you about him.”
It really isn’t about us—our goodness, our efforts, our commitment or our knowledge. It’s only about him. The reason I deleted the “Disclaimers” file without checking what was on it was because I don’t need disclaimers anymore. Love covers it all.
When people accuse you of not living up to your creed, being a hypocrite or being something less than what a Christian ought to be, don’t get angry or uptight, or bring out some kind of disclaimer that absolves you of your responsibility.
Instead, say this: “Bingo! Now let me tell you about Jesus who loves me anyway.”
He asked me to remind you.