Pastor’s Perspective – October 2023
When I was a child, I was taught that if I became a Christian, I would become one of life’s winners. I was taught a brand of Christianity that seemed more like a self-help class than a message of salvation. Stories about conversions inevitably concluded with miraculous success stories and rarely acknowledged any continuing struggle with sin and its consequences. Salvation was presented as a panacea for all that might ail you. Some even went as far as to doubt the salvation of those who failed to live up to the expectations of success or who suffered through persistent affliction.
This left those who struggled against addiction, disease, and guilt on the outside looking in on the glories of the purified. And when I experienced loss or failure, it seemed to be a violation of God’s promise. Or so I thought.
Thirty years of pastoral experience and partnership with Church leaders and lay people has taught me that there are no (or to appease that perfect person in the back row – few) lives of complete peace and joy. Scripture has taught me that the only perfect being born of a woman, faced dark nights of conflict and tears, and he was broken and beaten by sin that was not his own, as he carried His cross to death on Golgotha’s hill.
Christians have never been perfect and the people of God often experienced failure and loss even when we were faithful and righteous. We are men, women, and children who struggle with our faith, must daily correct our ways to comply with the Way of Jesus, and who need the most grace filled versions of ourselves to live in love with Christ and each other.
Much of what I experienced as a youngster was the Church trying to sell salvation as soap to dirty people. It sold Jesus as a solution instead of a Savior. A product instead of a King. A rugged individualist instead of one person of the Holy Trinity that is God.
To this day I still struggle with my imperfections and failures. Part of that struggle is a sense that my failure disqualifies me from speaking out in faith and power in the name of Jesus. How can I, an imperfect and failed follower of Jesus, proclaim the gospel if it hasn’t fully transformed me? Maybe I should wait until I have mastered this thing called Christianity before I share it with my friends? Won’t the message of the gospel be injured if the world finds out who I really am?
The Bible comprehensively chronicles the depth of human failure in the face of a loving and graceful God. The most faithful human beings fail in catastrophic ways. Abraham tells the King that Sarah is his sister. David impregnates Bathsheba and kills her faithful husband. Moses strikes the rock three times. Noah struggles after the flood and abuses alcohol to sooth his troubled soul. Peter denies Jesus three times. And still the power, grace, and love of God shines through.
The Good News is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not about what we have done or what we do. The gospel message is not a guarantee of our perfection or success in ministry. It is a promise of grace given and grace received. It is a covenant written in the blood of the Lamb of God that tells us that we will be forgiven of our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. It is the greatest gift we can be given in this life, because in Jesus we have found a perfect lover of our souls, who pays the price for our sin, and shows us the characteristic love of God. The gospel gives us the hope to rise after our failures and try again, even as it instructs us to assist those around us who also fail to live up to our own (and God’s) expectations.
This is why we need to share our stories and our struggles with each other. The gospel asks us to repent and be forgiven for our weaknesses, forgive our neighbors, and embrace a God that heals even the self-inflicted wounds of those who will lay their burdens at the foot of the cross. That is the victory in Jesus that shines even in the presence of our darkest hours. Thank God that His victory is sufficient.