Tag Archives: restoration

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Clarity About the Fruit: Patience

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 13: Clarity About the Fruit: Patience

Don’t you get weary of people and their problems? Especially when they are the problem? How do you endure the unfathomable things people do? Do you respond by wishing God’s judgment on them? Or do you long for a better outcome for them than the one they seem to have chosen?

How you think while you wait is what patience is all about. It’s not just about hanging in there during bad times or putting up with tough customers. The word for that is perseverance.

Patience is about the self-restraint which is demonstrated when a person does not hastily retaliate against a wrong. The patience that the Spirit produces in you is the kind that looks at people as damaged by sin and cultivates a desire in you to see them made whole. This desire stays the hand of revenge. It’s not for the cowardly, but for those who keep in step with the Spirit.

Paul, in a reflective moment, confesses to Timothy that, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man . . . for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1Timothy 1:13,16)

Paul was hardly the guy you would have voted for as someone who was to be an integral part of expanding the gospel, least of all to the Gentiles. Fierce in his Jewish beliefs, he was the perfect kamikaze (i.e. divine wind), to attack anyone stupid enough to follow Jesus. Hatred was his compass. Death was his objective.

And his changed life was so unexpected that even Ananias, who Jesus sent to explain things to him, probably took out extra insurance before timidly following through Jesus’ orders. He and all the rest of the earliest believers had low expectations that Paul could change.

Since Jesus is our example, what does Jesus displaying patience reveal to us about this spiritual fruit of patience?

Well, the first thing is that when we are keeping in step with the Spirit, we should not let the worst of people get in the way of expecting God to be able to change them. Often we react to uncalled-for behavior like James and John in their ‘sons of thunder’ days, ready to call down lightning from heaven on them.

Patience teaches us to see people from God’s perspective. They are lost or they are broken or they are mixed up. No matter what bad things they are engaged in, even if it is against us, patience lets us comprehend that, in God’s time, on earth or at the judgement seat, He will accomplish His purposes in them.

I have a friend who was as toxic as they come. I heard of his reputation long before I met him through those who had been the target of his spleen. I knew that God could change him and offered to guide him towards intimacy with God. Others were glad I was concerned but weren’t sure he should be allowed to stay in the group.

But God had a different perspective and gave me patience to see the day—and it was not a long wait—when this man was broken before God and healed. God displayed His glory and we got to see it.

This brings me to the second lesson about Jesus’ patience. If you have patience, you get to be part of the amazing thing God is doing to change people from the inside out. Maybe you will even be the person He uses in the process.

It is the immature, the impatient believer, who ends up missing out on what God would do through them if they would just wait, hold their tongues, withhold their condemnation. In our rush to judge, to play the role of the prophet—even when this is not our gifting by God—we find that the targets of our wrath are not being drawn to Jesus and the good news. They are being repelled by our ungodly attitudes. We need to pay attention to this.

God values people we would consider throwaways. Jesus died for them too. So keep in step with the Spirit and allow his work to change your exasperation into forbearance and mercy. Not for your own sake, but for the sake of the One who is continuing to have patience with you.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith

 


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Let’s Get Honest about Restoration

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Indispensable Leadership Skills #5: Let’s Get Honest about Restoration

He made the front page of the local paper. His sin was published almost before he was released on bail. Both his employers and his church closed their doors to him immediately. He was unclean, a pariah, too messy for anyone to help. Weeks later someone who knew him invited him to visit my church. Over the next year and a half, he was surrounded by a committed group of men who walked with him as he was restored in his relationship with God, his family, and the church. It was an investment of love, but had we not practiced restoration, who knows what might have happened to this man.

Too many leaders have a throw-them-under-the-bus approach to sinful people who do not immediately repent and confess. Or even if they do repent and confess, little is offered to help them restore their walk with God, the congregation, and their family. The danger to this approach only becomes apparent when the condemning leaders get caught in sin themselves.

Restoration is something Jesus himself practiced with Peter after he denied Jesus in Pilate’s courtyard. Had he consigned Peter to hell for his denial, we would be justified to do the same with people who mess up in our congregation. But everyone who leads in Jesus’ church has to follow Jesus on this as well.

Restoration is not always a popular choice. Once when I chased a man caught in sin who was not looking to repent—looking more like he was happy to keep going deeper into the pit, I was told by other leaders that since he was not repentant, it was a waste of time to try to restore him. I knew they were wrong and they came to see that they were.

Mastering restoration is about learning how the gospel saves the saved. The power of the gospel not only restores the lost, it restores the saved when they willfully stray back into the enemy’s camp. Even if your congregation has a transformational culture, you will have plenty of people who will need restoration at one time or another. But you have to choose to practice it. You will not restore believers merely by wishing they would repent. Sometimes you have to lovingly chase them and they may just fight you until God wrestles them to the ground. Other times, people will be relieved to be caught because they hated what they were becoming.

For restoration, you will need to cultivate two characteristics and master two skills. The two characteristics are gentleness and humility. We all have the tendency to be disappointed to the point of anger at people who fail. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in us that gives us control over our words. Humility is a product of our recognition of our own failure to be good for God. To be humble is to have learned that there is zero difference between us and those who are in the grip of sin. He or she could have been us and maybe someday it will be us. The combination of gentleness and humility guides how we become safe to help our siblings trapped in sin.

The first of the skills you need to master is the intentional confrontation, characterized by Nathan’s challenge “You are the man!” to David when David ‘secretly’ impregnated Uriah’s wife and then oversaw his ‘accidental’ death. Intentionally confronting someone produces two results apart from potentially seeing the person restored. It announces to the rest of the body that we are not helpless. Secondly, it tells them that saved people matter to God and therefore matter to us as well.

The second skill is leading someone on the pathway back again. A full description of the restoration pathway can be found in my book, Build Deep: Developing a Culture of Transformation in Your Church. But understand that you only really gain mastery when you actually do it. And you will find that it changes you. Every time I have participated in restoring someone caught in sin, I become more in tune with my own need for God to reign over me, more aware that I am prone to wander, too. And I become more conscious of how much I need my church family to watch over me. You cannot practice restoration and be unaffected yourself.

Mastering these four practices—repentance, confession, reconciliation, and restoration—will make it possible for you and other leaders to help develop a transformational culture in your church. You will be able to disciple others so they can do them too. This is how people become confident that there is a reality to their faith. People in your congregation will go where you go or they will go out the door. Give them every reason to stay and grow with you into a transformational church by becoming leaders they can imitate.

-Steve Smith


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What does God do with jerks?

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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #36: What does God do with jerks?

“My son” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:31-32

I have worked with many a prodigal over the years and what I have learned is that prodigals can be real jerks. They take what they think is theirs and waste it. They can be blind to the harm they cause. They often devalue the most important thing they have. They are offensive. They tick people off—on purpose. They leave a mess in their wake.

In probably one of the best-known stories that Jesus told, he starts with the shocking point that the younger son was not content to wait until his dad died in order to claim his inheritance. He demanded it upfront and then partied it away with his fair-weather friends. His disrespect for his dad was bad enough, but the implication was that he put himself in a place where, when the day came, he would not be able to fulfill his duty as a son to care for his aging father. He spent his way into the pigpen, finding himself, not his dad, being the one stressed by his insolence.

Because this story is often used to illustrate the idea of salvation, we can miss the cultural point. The son already belonged. As an Israelite, he was part of the covenantal people. He was not some outsider needing to get in. He was someone who had contemptuously turned his back on who he really was. But he never stopped being family.

This truth explains the father’s response. He has been waiting for his son’s return. He runs to meet him. He dresses him, puts a ring on his finger; throws a party for this prodigal who has stumbled home. Why? —Because his son belongs. As messed up as he knows he has been, the father restores him to his place with a headlong enthusiasm that distresses the one other character in the story—the older brother.

In reality, this was not a story about a lost son so much as it was about a brother who wanted his returning sibling to get lost. This prodigal had wasted his life. Why should he be loved as much as the one who had stayed the course and had done his duty?

If you read the story’s afterword, you, of course, know that the older brother represented the Pharisees. They were offended by this story because they got the point better than a lot of us do. They actually were the older brother, preening in their own goodness while disturbed by the messiness of other people’s lives. In their minds, how could the Father love ‘those people’?

I find this attitude still very evident in the church today. People blow up their lives. Their unfinished business gets out of hand. They cause conflict in the church. Their homes become battlegrounds. They become, in the words of Gordon MacDonald, VDPs—very draining persons. They take all they can and give nothing back. They devastate everyone they touch. In the eyes of the present day older brothers, throwing them under the bus is the best way to peace in the church. For them, it is inconceivable that ‘those people’ can even be restored.

Except that is precisely why Jesus is telling this tale. He came to transform people whom a lot of believers think are too great of a jerk to be salvaged. He does this because they belong to his family. And Jesus transformed these jerks in the face of skepticism and resentment. His transforming work is not up to the approval of the leadership team, nor the consent of those who have been disturbed by the antics of the prodigal.

The transforming work of the gospel, because of its inclusiveness, confronts our attitudes. Will we be glad that people who were jerks are being restored to serve and worship alongside us or will we be the jerks who are glad when they are gone? Whatever we choose will either open us up to loving prodigals on their transformational journey or standing in need of transformation ourselves.

-Steve Smith


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Loving Enough To Restore

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 14Loving Enough To Restore

I really loved the person with whom I was meeting. But he did not want to be in this after-the-sin-had-been-exposed meeting and he did not particularly think that I loved him. Or, if I had loved him in the past, still felt the same way now. In fact, he was pretty inwardly focused at that moment. He was looking for a way to mitigate his sin. To find a path to walk away from the pain he had caused as well as was feeling. To find a safe place to recover. To him, the quality of my love at that moment was not a central theme of this meeting. He doubted my love. As a result, he would soon be walking away from the restoration process.

He walked away because there were personal family members who wanted to protect him from what they considered our lies/his truth. One called me and threatened a lawsuit if I did not leave him alone.

He walked away because there was another pastor who wanted to protect him from what he considered our lies/his truth. This pastor made me out to be the bad guy of the piece.

He walked away because he wanted to save his marriage and thought his lies/our truth would undermine his chances. A mutual friend reported that this tactic sorrowfully failed. And that the pastor’s attempts to protect him led to more damaging choices.

I have prayed regularly for this brother through the passing years. I still love him and would like to see him fully restored, assuming that this journey is not complete for him. But what I learned from this unhappy story is that not all love is really love. His family, this pastor, both thought they loved him. Both did all they could to protect him from the harm they expected that I would inflict on him. In the end, their kind of love failed.

Family and friendship love are a welcomed part of the human condition. But the love that God has for us and empowers us to have with each other is based on more than the value we place on being family or friends. This love emanates from the will—God willed to love us when we were His implacable foes. His love places value on the unworthy, the broken, the rebellious. It restores. When you allow the Spirit to produce this kind of love in you, it matters that truth be told. That the broken be made whole. This is costly love, because it required a cross to make it available to us.

Love is not giving someone a pass. While 1 Corinthians 13 does remind us that this kind of love is patient and kind, keeping no record of wrongs, it goes on to say that love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love is willing to look at the hard reality of human failure and believe that the person, no matter how badly he or she has sinned against God (Psalm 51:4), God can restore and we are His instruments. Not because we are better than the person. We are His instruments because we love the person and know that, there, but for the grace of God, go I.

Here is what God taught me through this failed restoration process. Never let your love of a family member or friend get in the way of loving them enough to allow them to remain caught in their sin.

Steve Smith


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Learning Through Experience

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 13: Learning through Personal Experience

How does one unlearn deeply ingrained beliefs that hamper the work of restoring someone caught up in sin? One answer is not what I would wish for anyone, but I know that the day that I crashed and burned—when my sin was publicly outed by God—was the day I finally unlearned the beliefs I had so painstakingly held on to as foundational up till then. I found out that I stopped looking at the failures in those I pastored with ever so much more judgment than compassion. The truth is that it is hard to unlearn faulty beliefs until you jump into the pit personally and have to be rescued.

Think about Peter and his denial of Jesus just hours after declaring that he would never leave Jesus’ side even if it meant death. His willingness to pull out a sword and fight the platoon who had come to arrest Jesus in the garden tells us the depth of his mistaken theology. Fight! Fight for Jesus. Kill those who oppose him. Bring them to their knees. Except… Jesus stopped him and repaired the damage he had done. His kingdom was not of this world—didn’t Peter get that?

No.

In fact, not until his denial and his restoration by Jesus did he get it. Jesus’ kingdom was much bigger and more powerfully able to change people’s lives than any puny revolution he and his ragged band of brothers could pull off. Peter’s personal ability to live the life would never be the same after that.

What Peter—and all the other disciples–learned about restoration between the cross and Jesus’ ascension changed the world. It changed how they would do Jesus’ ministry in the world. Jesus taught Peter through his failure more than Peter had understood up to that moment.

I am afraid that is usually true for all of us. We are so often tempted to stand apart from and slightly above those in the clutch of sin. They are a mess. They may never be useful to Jesus’ kingdom again. I used to think this way—until it was my mess. Until Jesus restored me. Until my eyes were opened and I understood how the good news of Jesus was so different from religious morality and judgmentalism. He did not offer a way back through the valley of humiliation so I could be on probation. His gospel is about full restoration and usefulness. It’s about a no condemnation way to wholeness. It’s about discovering that I still belonged.

The moment you see your own addictions and failure in this light, your compassion as a believer caught in sin will change. And your passion for restoring that person will also change. It is your brokenness and gratefulness to Jesus for holding on to you that will make you into someone who is a dedicated restorer.

Steve Smith


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Learning from Jesus How to Be a Safe Person

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 8Learning from Jesus How to Be a Safe Person 

Another truth that Apostle John’s story shows us about being safe is that you cannot be put off by the nature of the sin the person committed. Shocking though it may seem to you, believers are more than capable of doing every destructive act in the book. The young disciple John chased (told about in a previous blog, Learning How to Be a Safe Person from John) had not merely given himself over to stealing from people. To be a robber in that day meant you killed people for their goods. You left no witnesses. This is why John kissed his right hand, a hand that had been bloodied by the deaths of his victims. If John was certain of anything, it was that Jesus would forgive even this sin.

Just as you have to challenge your hierarchy for valuing people in the church, you also have to face off any tendency to make a hierarchy of sin. All sin that has people caught in its clutches is forgivable if repentance happens. They can be restored. Engaged in homosexuality? A three-some? Murdered a child? Violence against a spouse? Incest? Robbed the elderly of their life savings and left them destitute, perhaps dying impoverished? Think of any shocking sin that you can add to this list and ask yourself, “Is anything too hard for God?”

I know. Some of you already are asking whether or not this person we are talking about is even a Christian. I’ve heard that many times before. And the answer is: “I don’t know.” BUT I do know that you have to chase that person, if for no other reason than to proclaim the gospel into his or her life. If for no other reason than to love them and fulfill the law of Christ. Even if that person walks away instead of being restored, you have acted out righteousness.

Maybe from this distance Peter’s denial of Jesus doesn’t shock you enough for you to put his sin into this category. But Jesus had taught his disciples that if they denied him before men, he would deny them in turn before the Father. For this reason, Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus at Pilate’s courtyard was a jumping-into-the-pit of the highest order. So ask yourself, what was Jesus’ first priority after his resurrection? That’s right—Peter’s restoration. And you also know who was present when Jesus was finishing Peter’s restoration—John (John 21:20-23). Can you wonder at why an aging John was not willing to let the young disciple go? John learned from the master. And if you are a disciple, you do as the master does. That is what makes you safe.

Steve Smith


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Learning from Brokenness How to Be a Safe Person

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 7Learning from Your Own Brokenness How to Be a Safe Person 

How do you unlearn deeply ingrained judgmental beliefs that get in the way of loving someone enough to engage in their restoration? Paul’s answer is to watch yourself or you too may be tempted. He is saying self-knowledge of your own vulnerability plays a role in being able to restore others caught in sin. The recognition that there is no sin that could not also trap you if you were not held safe by God is critical. How does this work out in real life?

One answer is not what I wish for anyone, but I can tell you that the day that I crashed and burned—when my sin was publicly outed by God—was the day I finally unlearned the beliefs I had so painstakingly held onto as foundational up till then. It is hard to unlearn faulty beliefs until you discover this personally. The lightbulb moment when you really see the consequences of your own addictions and God’s mercy and grace to restore you, will start you looking at the failures in those you lead with ever so much more understanding and compassion. A ‘search me, God, and see if there is some wicked way in me’ approach may make you a more able servant of God than any Bible knowledge you have ever gained.

Some sins seem so much more devastating than others. Extra-curricular sexual dalliances, especially with a child, top many believers’ list. Brutality in the home, the duplicity of a double life, lying which results in destroying someone’s reputation, amorality in life—we are often hard pressed to believe these people are even Christians. “I would never do that. Let them go, they will never willingly repent!” is the thought that allows us to be at peace with not trying to restore them.

But here is the reality of depravity. There is nothing we could not do and, but for the grace of God, you and I would not do. Incest? Murder? Robbing the elderly and the poor? We would like to say, “No, I’d never.” But if we’d never it is God alone who empowers us to ‘never.’ And perhaps you have done things—though those days are long behind you.

You need this level of candor about your own brokenness to become safe. And for your church to be a safe church, you have to lead the congregation to understand this with you. Many churches are unsafe because people are afraid to be transparent about their own sin. Judging others is actually a defensive reaction to keep the spotlight off from themselves.

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.” is the confession of the safe church. There is zero difference between the ability of any of us to be good for God. We all could be in the pit if left to our own devices. But we should neither fear this nor abandon others because it happened to them. It is because God gives us grace by the Spirit that we, as one family, should fearlessly restore each other. Unlearning judgmental beliefs in order to learn love is what spiritually maturing people do.

Steve Smith


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What is Restoration?

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 3: What is Restoration?

My first exposure to restoration of sinful people took place at the church I attended during my college years. I was dumbfounded first when a lovable church member got mixed up with ‘the other woman’ and left his family and the church. Then a grandmotherly woman who had personally invested in me raged publicly at the pastor and left the congregation with her husband trailing after. “What’s happening here?” we who were left behind wondered. I also remember the day when the man, back in church months later, stood unexpectedly and confessed his sin to the whole church as his wife sobbed by his side. Two years after college, I was back for a visit. I found that the spiritual leader of the men’s ministry was now that man and the spiritual leader of the women’s ministry was now that grandmotherly woman.

What took place over that period of time was biblical restoration. But what exactly is it? Before I give my definition, here are a couple of things it isn’t. Restoration is not to be equated with forgiveness. A lot of people in the church get these two confused. In the new covenant, people are forgiven the moment they turn from sin and repent. But this does not mean they are safe from the schemes of Satan, who desires to pull them back into destruction. Nor are they safe for the body. This leads to another thing that restoration is not—it is not about positional restoration. It is not primarily about returning people to involvement in ministry or even leadership. That is a secondary issue to be taken up when a believer is safe in their walk with Jesus again. I have seen the folly of the church so-called restoration process that hurriedly returned people caught in sin back to a position they held before. Talk about mega-disasters for all concerned.

So what is it? Restoration is restoring people in their walk with God, into a healthy relationship with the people they wounded and back into community with the body of Christ. It involves getting under their outer life facade to help them discover the causes of the spiritually unhealthy choices that led them to jump into the pit. The goal is to lead them to surrender these choices to God, not for forgiveness, but for eradication by His grace. Further, it is to guide those caught in sin to restore what they took from others in their selfish pursuit of self-centered choices.

Restoration is not merely a ‘make it all nice again’ endeavor. It is allowing people caught in sin time to discover alongside safe people why they chose that path of destruction. This is neither easy work nor is it tinged with the cheap mercy of tossing a blanket over their sin and ignoring it.

Steve Smith


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You Can’t Restore Those You Don’t Value

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 2: You Can’t Restore Those You Don’t Value

I am guiding several leaders who are collectively dealing with a deeply tragic family situation. Unfaithfulness, addiction, inner family conflict and extended family abandonment, coupled with long standing wandering from God by the key players are intermingled in this dizzying spectrum of issues. More than one family member needs to be restored. For many of the believers entering into this morass, it is the first time they have ever participated in restoration.

The first question with which you have to grapple is the one of value. “How much value do these broken people have for me?” I know our official doctrine informs us that they all are precious in God’s sight, that they matter to Him so much that He gave His Son’s life in exchange for them. But how valuable are they to you? You have to get real with yourself to even get to the starting gate of wanting to restore them when they jump into the pit.

Stop and think about this. Who in your church would you want to restore if they messed up?

  • A beloved pastor who has invested in you and others?
  • A key leader whose visibility to and influence over the congregation has made a spiritual difference?
  • A faithful attender who would be missed if he or she was allowed to go on sinning?
  • An indifferent sibling in the faith?
  • An aggressively messed up person whose participation in the church seems like an intrusion?

If some of the people I listed are of unequal value to you, accept that you have a skewed view of the body of Christ. Also accept that your ability to be used by God to restore someone caught in sin will be compromised. Truthfully, to be able to pursue restoration for anyone, you have to want to restore them all, even the ones that constitute the greater challenge. Otherwise you will quit way too early on those who need you to hang in there the most. This is what Paul means by characterizing restorers as living by the Spirit.

The messy lives of those I mentioned are going to take time. It will involve 10-12 believers investing their precious time weekly for the unforeseeable future. There is no guarantee that those they seek to restore will humble themselves to God and be made whole. They are doing this because they value the wandering ones as Jesus does.

You will never come to value people caught in sin equally until you ask the Father to change you. It is one thing to say that you belong to the family of God. It is another—a costly another— thing to treat all the people in your congregation like family. You have to ask God to take away your indifference, your fear of involvement, your inattentiveness toward doing good to those who belong to the family of believers.

As Paul says, we get to reap a harvest if we do not give up doing good (Galatians 6:9). The benefits I have already received from restored family members—whose names meant nothing to anyone but the Father—far outweighs the effort put in when they were at their worst. Seeing a person living in freedom and following hard after the Father again is worth every minute I gave. And they, knowing the destruction they were flirting with, have never wandered again. This is why I teach others how to restore those caught in sin.

Peace!

Steve

 

 


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Restoring Those Who Crash and Burn

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Crash and burn

Restoration in a Transformational Community 1: 

Restoring those Who Crash and Burn

It’s tough to talk about the tragic. A formerly well respected pastor, loved son, husband and father dies by his own hand. This came after a year of sad revelations. Shock waves raced through the faith community and unfortunately confirmed the belief system of the non-believer who considers Christianity all hucksterism anyway. What makes me wonder is not that it happened—I have seen it before during my lifespan—but about the rest of the story not being told. And I am not talking about the dirt whispered about this man in the news reports.

What I wonder is what was being done by those who rightly stepped him back from ministry to restore him in his walk with Jesus. I wonder if they knew how to do what they needed to do and at what depth. The need to know this is not mere idle speculation. We are losing too many Christian leaders in the battle. Men and women who, like Tryphena and Tryphosa, have worked hard for the gospel. And besides them, many believers, who live under the radar, are being left to stew in their own damaging sin choices, almost invisible to our eyes.

Our challenge is to live as God’s Holy Church. Being the church includes restoring anyone we see caught in a sin. So what do you have in your toolbox that indicated you are prepared to battle for the soul and even the very life of people with whom you share a common Savior?

Not to say this pastor was a willing participant in his restoration process. Maybe he was so ashamed and out of control he resisted help from those who loved him. Maybe they did their all they knew how and walked beside him the best they could. Certainly his opting for suicide was not of their making. It was a sloth choice—the conclusion of a man who was unwilling to take responsibility for himself except to determine his family and friends would be better off without him. This is why sloth is included as one of the seven deadly sins.

This is an invitation to learn something that someday you will need to know. You may need it today. Or last week, for that matter. I understand that it is hard to learn this by reading alone. Most of us need to see it done to understand what the defiant, the broken, the addicted, the runaway, the unrepentant, or the out-of-control person of our family needs for us to do and say in such moments. Some of what I share will only make sense when you are actually walking someone through restoration.


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