Steve’s Letter – September 2013
SEPTEMBER 1, 2013
James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Last night I saw that verse stand up, salute and sing The Hallelujah Chorus. Let me tell you about it.
As you know, I’m a cynical, old preacher whose attitude is hopefully more biblical and realistic than it is cynical. But sometimes I fear that isn’t true. My saving quality is that I’m probably more cynical about myself than anybody else.
There isn’t any confession I haven’t heard and often identified with. It is rare for me to see anything happening or not happening in the church that surprises me or which I haven’t been a part of in one form or another. I’ve never heard an unbeliever’s negative comment about Christians or the church that I didn’t want to say, “You don’t know nothin’!” I can’t even remember the string of marriages gone bad, suicides both successful and not, and deathbeds, tragedy, failure and sin I’ve witnessed. You don’t live as long as I have and observe as much as I have without identifying with the preacher in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity….a striving after wind.”
I’m a little less cynical this morning than I was yesterday.
Last night we went to hear Rose Marie Miller. She spoke at a church pastored by a friend of mine and one of the bloggers on our website for pastors, Chuck Holliday. Rose Marie is the widow of my late friend, Jack Miller, a man whose ministry and life touched mine in profound ways. Jack was a professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (where I’ll be teaching in a couple weeks), and the founder of a pile of churches and of World Harvest Mission with many missionaries around the world. He created and taught a seminar that changed thousands and thousands of lives called Sonship.
I could spend the rest of this letter giving you Jack Miller quotes. My favorite one: “The Bible can be summed up in two sentences. 1) Cheer up, you’re a lot worse than you think you are. 2) Cheer up, God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is.”
At any rate, being with and hearing Rose Marie was like fresh air…but not for the reasons you think.
I’m often impressed with missionaries and find myself praying, “Lord, I would go if you sent me, but I would rather go to Hawaii than Bosnia.” Rose Marie is a missionary to Muslims (and others) in a hard section of London. Of course that is inspiring, but it’s not fresh air. I like being around Christians who have walked with Jesus “the road less traveled” and who have been faithful in the long haul. That’s impressive too, but it’s not fresh air. I listen to and read the messages of a whole lot of Christian leaders and get to interview them. I’m often intimated by those leaders and, in fact, find myself saying to God, “I promise I’ll do better” and I am better…at least for awhile. So I’m motivated by them; but again, it’s not fresh air. It takes very little to make me feel guilty (guilt is the gift that keeps on giving) and even less for me to realize that it’s insane I do what I do. So I try to do better and, frankly, I thought and hoped I would be better than I am. I suppose that I’m glad for those who challenge me, but it’s not fresh air.
When we went to hear Rose Marie, I didn’t want to hear another sermon. I was really tired. I taught a preaching class in Atlanta all last week and was up to my ears in sermons. I didn’t need more religion (I’m too religious already), more admonishment (I can do that for myself) or even godly encouragement. I don’t know what I expected, but what happened wasn’t it.
They put two chairs in the chancel area and Debbie (the pastor’s wife) interviewed Rose Marie. She had just flown in from England and I suspect was very tired. Not only that, after our service, she was going to teach into the evening a number of church people.
I was prepared to hear Rose Marie talk about her work and perhaps reference her latest book taken from lectures she gave in India. She travels the world and has led so many to Christ. Debbie certainly gave her an opportunity with the questions she asked. But do you know what Rose Marie did? Instead of doing what I expected…
…she confessed her sins!
What’s with that?
This 88-year-old saint, who could have pretended to be a model for all of us lesser followers of Christ, told us about a lady she often travels with who has a natural gift of loving people. Rose Marie said that was fine “until I realized that others were being drawn to her and not to me. I found myself so jealous. Would you pray for me because I’m still struggling with it?”
Now that’s fresh air!
But Rose Marie didn’t just confess her sins…she pointed to Jesus. She said that she had been studying 1 Corinthians 13 and the Psalms. Then Rose Marie taught us the incredible truth of God’s love for us and his willingness to make us different. It was powerful…but more than that, it was fresh air.
Since last night, I’ve been asking myself, “Why was that so freeing? Why did you want to laugh and dance? Why was it fresh air?”
This afternoon we interviewed Paul Tripp about his new book, Sex and Money: Pleasures That Leave You Empty and Grace That Satisfies. (We joked that even if the book wasn’t very good—and it’s a great book—the title was a winner. Someone suggested that we should combine his book title with mine: Sex and Money and Three Free Sins, and then Paul and I could retire on the royalties.)
I asked Paul how he could be so honest about himself. He laughed and said that truth set him free to not have to pretend anymore. He said there were three things that Christians needed to remember: “First, you are never alone; second, God is never surprised and whatever sin you have, it is covered; and third, God will never love you less or reject you.”
That’s it! It’s why the time with Rose Marie was so refreshing that I almost spoke in tongues.
Partake in the refreshing Jesus
When Paul wrote his young friend, Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15), he wasn’t just giving a religious cliché, he was partaking of the refreshment Jesus gave him by being honest and sharing that refreshment with Timothy.
As I mentioned, I taught a preaching class last week before hearing Rose Marie. Sometimes I have students preach for the class and that sermon becomes a part of their grade. Do you know one of the ways I determine the grade? I count the times I say to myself, “I don’t believe I would have said that!” Then I correlate the grade with the number of times I say it. The more I say it, the higher the grade.
I would give Rose Marie an A+.
You’ve heard me often say that we should live our lives with such freedom and honesty that uptight Christians doubt our salvation.
Try it. You’ll like it.
He asked me to remind you.
In His Grip,