XXXXXX Died Yesterday.
This story does not have a good ending, and I am the villain. It is about a critical mistake…sin?,,,that I made in ministry. Not a silly error that makes for a good illustration; but one that is just simply bad in a not very redemptive sort of way. This is not a mistake that I could share and know people won’t be disappointed in me currently, because it happened years and years ago when I was much less mature than today….this incident happened this month, June. In fact, “mistake,” or “error,” or any other word is not really adequate to describe what I did, unfortunately.
As a warning, let me say that this is going to be a fairly transparent post, and I can sometimes share enough that it makes my wife and close friends cringe, and tell me to “chill”. That is not to say that I’m actually transparent in a Godly and noble way at all. There’s still dark and unshared things inside down there, but I do believe that the Bible commands us to confess our sins to each other (not to priests…but to each other – James 5:16), and that healing comes in the midst of confession. At least in Western Christianity, we don’t see much James 5:16 confessing going on, and that is a tragedy in my view. A good friend, Joshua, frequently reminds members of our church, especially the leaders, that confession of sin and openness about weakness is wisdom, because it shows the degree that we all need Jesus, and encourages less mature and younger Christians to not keep their struggles to themselves. This post is a confession, I think, in that sense.
Honestly, there are a lot of great writers out there, and I’m not one of them. I hope to develop one day, after years and years of crafting the art, into a competent and good writer. But there’s no huge need for another writer in the mold of all of the others. If I’m going to write now and do it fruitfully, at least part of that will be because I am more open than usual, and this is an attempt in that direction. The title of this blog is currently “Adventures in Theology.” Ultimately, some of our adventures together will be with fascinating topics like spiritual warfare, the gifts of the Spirit, prayer and fasting, demons and evil spirits, angels, heaven and hell, and others, but my strength as a writer won’t be to tackle those topics with the fine and disciplined mind of a Systematic theologian that has mastered Greek, Latin, Hebrew and German…but with more of an adventurous air – passion, emotion and honest transparency combined with a love and faithfulness to God’s Word. That’s the goal, anyway, and this post is here to keep us honest. I’m a pastor, and have been in ministry for over twenty years. And I screw up. A lot.
Before I get to the story itself, please let me open with Five Powerful Evangelism Quotes that I have preached on before. I do this because, at least on the surface, evangelism and missions are both very important to me. Jesus commanded His followers to go to the ends of the earth with the good news of His death on the cross for sin (See Matthew 28:18-20), and I have spent over 20 years of ministry both being involved in telling people about Jesus, and (more often, sadly) calling other Christians to tell people about Jesus. You can’t read the Bible with open eyes, and not realize how big of a deal that telling others about the Gospel of Jesus is.
1. “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.” And “Let us not glide through this world and then slip quietly into heaven, without having blown the trumpet loud and long for our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Let us see to it that the devil will hold a thanksgiving service in hell, when he gets the news of our departure from the field of battle.” C.T. Studd Both quotes by Studd are awesome and incredibly challenging (and manly!) Studd was a guy who left a life of ease behind in England, and actually did give much of his life to evangelism. His zeal has challenged me, and I have quoted him a lot over the years.
2. “Someone asked, ‘will the heathen who have never heard the Gospel be saved?’ It is more a question with me whether we — who have the Gospel and fail to give it to those who have not — can be saved.” Also: “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” And, “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!” And, finally, “Let eloquence be flung to the dogs rather than souls be lost. What we want is to win souls. They are not won by flowery speeches.” Charles Spurgeon Ouch. That hurts, and it should! Spurgeon is one of my heroes. A faithful, Calvinistic, Baptist preacher from London who blows away the “frozen chosen” stereotype that some have of Calvinists.
3. “Don’t wait for a feeling or love in order to share Christ with a stranger. You already love your heavenly Father, and you know that this stranger is created by Him, but separated from Him, so take those first steps in evangelism because you love God. It is not primarily out of compassion for humanity that we share our faith or pray for the lost; it is first of all, love for God.” John Piper. YES! We share Jesus with people not because we have a great love for them (though that is fine and good) but because we have a great love for the God who saved us!
4. “‘Not called!’ did you say? ’Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face — whose mercy you have professed to obey — and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.” William Booth – The founder of the Salvation Army back when it was about the business of sharing the gospel more, and soliciting donations less.
5. “If he have faith, the believer cannot be restrained. He betrays himself. He breaks out. He confesses and teaches this gospel to the people at the risk of life itself.” And, “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.” Martin Luther
I have preached almost ALL of those quotes. I believe them. They inspire me. These are the kinds of quotes that fire me up, and get me going. With my mind, I agree with them, and see that they are inspired by truth from the Scriptures. In my heart, I give a hearty shout of “amen!” and “onward!” With my feet and actions, I…fatally delayed until it was too late.
At the beginning of this month, a very good friend asked me, in my role as pastor and board member of a local Christian homeschool covering, to go visit the husband of a person in our school who was dying of cancer. I did not know the family in question, but did know that they were one of the roughly 125 or so families that are a part of our homeschool group. My friend asked me to visit this dying man because there was a level of uncertainty about whether or not the man was a Christian, and he didn’t have a deep relationship with anybody to discuss dying, or eternal life in Jesus, or Heaven, or how God can help us suffer, or really anything at all like that. I assured my friend that I would go visit this family. I did not, however, do so.
If you’ve been with this site for a time, you might have read my article on the Hidden Power of Weakness that was published in early June. In that story, I recount our family travails of the first 12 days of June 2016 – how there was much extended sickness in our household, mainly with our kids, and a fair amount of other trials. It was a rough start to the Summer to be sure – the kids struggle with asthma a good bit in the Spring and Fall, but the Summer is usually our safe haven. Long story short, I allowed myself to get distracted from the commitment I made to my friend, and from the call of Jesus in His Word to take His good news to all.
On June 6, my friend texted me to let me know that her friend’s husband had been sent home to hospice care. She noted that they had only given him “a few weeks, to perhaps a couple of months,” to live. I thought I had time. That next week was a very difficult week with the kids being sick, but it was not so difficult that I didn’t manage to catch a few episodes of my current TV show on Netflix (Person of Interest…), and It wasn’t so difficult that I didn’t manage to get in a game of disc golf, or a meal from a fast food place or three. I cut the grass, and did several other reasonably important, but not essential things. On Sunday night, June 12th, my son who had been sick for ten days finally announced (and acted like) he was better, almost back to his old self! When I went to bed Sunday night, I went to bed with gratefulness in my heart and peace and rejoicing that my family was starting to feel better.
When I awakened Monday morning, June 13th, it was to my phone buzzing with a text message. I groggily grabbed my phone, and looked at the message. It was my friend. “XXXXXX XXXX died yesterday.” My heart skipped a beat. NO! I had at least another week!!
I was crushed with a flood of negative emotions. I wish the first one was anguish for that man’s soul and his family that had lost their father and husband, but the first one was actually embarrassment that I had given my word to my friend, and let her down. The more I thought about it that day, however, the more haunted that I became in the thought that I had instead let that family down, and let that man down by failing to visit him. Had I also sinned against God, in some ways? Ultimately, I believe so…(scroll down for a P.S. at the end on that particular question.) Like I said – bad story. No good ending. I wish there was something hopeful, or upbeat I could add to end the narrative on a high note, but that is not how life always works here on earth, is it?
Well – that is the story of what happened this month, and how I missed God’s call so profoundly. Why am I even writing about this? For at least three reasons, I suppose. First and foremost – I want to remember, and writing this out is a good way to never forget. This is one of the greatest and most eternal failures of my time in the ministry, and it isn’t the first time that I have passed on an opportunity to comfort, or share good news, or just simply be with somebody who is hurting. I want to remember the sting of this. One of the hardest parts to this situation personally is that there is no make up call…nothing I can do to make it better. The make up call is one of my specialties – “yes, I messed up, but here’s how I can make it better! ” In this case, however, I can find no place of repentance.
Second, I am writing this as a cautionary tale. Who is the Mr. XXXX in your own life? The person you know you need to go to with the good news of Jesus, but assume you have plenty of time to do so? Maybe a person that you are at odds with, and should be reconciled too? (Matthew 5:24) I thought I had an extra week – at minimum – to check in with Mr. XXXX. I was mistaken. Man knows not his own days, and we don’t know the days (or length of life) of anybody else, either.
Finally, I am writing as a confession. Not so that somebody tries to make me feel better – please don’t do that in comments, or emails, or whatever. When somebody confesses a sin, don’t throw your arm around them and tell them it’s okay. Throw your arm around them, and glorify God that you together serve a Father of Grace who forgives. Don’t whitewash the sin, or brush it under the rug, but instead glorify and rejoice in the God who forgives through the precious shed blood of Jesus!
That is all for now. Thank you for reading this bit of rambling confession. Please allow me to urge you to take every opportunity to speak the truth in love and share the Good News of Jesus, without delay, in every opportunity you get!
P.S. (Post Script):
So – am I eternally responsible/guilty for failing to share the Gospel with this particular gentlemen, and in other situations? The easy answer, as a Baptist guy who is quite Reformed, is “no.” However, there is a very challenging passage in Ezekiel which doesn’t directly apply to this situation, but does seem to say something about the responsibility of messengers to share the message.
Ezekiel 33:1-9 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and tell them: Suppose I bring the sword against a land, and the people of that land select a man from among them, appointing him as their watchman, 3 and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows his trumpet to warn the people. 4 Then, if anyone hears the sound of the trumpet but ignores the warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. 5 Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but ignored the warning, his blood is on his own hands. If he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. 6 However, if the watchman sees the sword coming but doesn’t blow the trumpet, so that the people aren’t warned, and the sword comes and takes away their lives, then they have been taken away because of their iniquity, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.7 “As for you, son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. 8 If I say to the wicked, ‘Wicked one, you will surely die,’ but you do not speak out to warn him about his way, that wicked person will die for his iniquity, yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. 9 But if you warn a wicked person to turn from his way and he doesn’t turn from it, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life.
Does this passage mean that we are responsible (blood on our hands) for not sharing the good news of Jesus with people? Again, most would answer that question “no.” I myself am not one hundred percent sure, however. Followers of Jesus are, most certainly, responsible and called to share His good news to the World. And when we fail to do that which we are called to do – the Bible calls that sin, as in James 4:
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
What do you think?