She had protected this secret behind an image of success and a pristine track record of leadership and influence in the Christian community. At some point, after pouring out her heart, she said, "I bet you think I’m the worst sinner you’ve ever met." I responded by saying, "There was a day when I would have, but knowing my own story and sin, I don’t think that at all." In that moment I realized that I was in the presence of greatness, and I have always cherished her honesty.
The Church is full of stumblers. I know, because I am one of them. Some freely admit this, but sadly most hide in fear, wondering if God could ever forgive them. They would prefer to admit weakness and failure in offices, classrooms and bars than subject themselves to the possibility of rejection in the very place where sinners are supposed to be most welcome.
They hide behind facades of self-righteousness, false humility and quiet despair.
For me, I used to think that I was perfect (or some version of that!), and at the very least better than most. As a rules-keeper I figured out how to cultivate dark and ugly desires, while maintaining an exterior of purity, and an image of self-righteousness. But this only fueled even darker sin within me, as I seethed in secret jealousy over those who didn’t seem so concerned about their lifestyles.
My self-deception was my curse.
Now you need to know that this is not what we find in the scriptures, particularly in the ministry of Jesus. To a group of church leaders who were incredulous with the company He kept, Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
This is the true Christian story. The scriptures are saturated with examples of a heavenly Father who relentlessly pursues stumbling sinners by entering into their brokenness.
Can you imagine if the Church were to become a place where sinners could freely admit what James clearly teaches, that “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2)?
For me, it wasn’t until I failed miserably, and in my mind irreversibly, that I truly encountered God, and realized that my greatest need was not a righteousness I could never independently acquire or maintain, but Jesus!
A few years ago, we returned to the church I pastored in Tallahassee, Florida. As we entered the facility, the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this post, approached me and said, "I don’t know if you remember, but I’m…" I looked at her and smiled and said, "… I will never forget your name."
Friends, the Father didn’t send Jesus to make us perfect, but to make us His. This makes you unforgettable to Him.
And this is our good news.