I worry sometimes that I might be losing my religion–every time I read of another church scandal: theologies untethered to Biblical truth, financial or personal corruption by leaders, and in many cases downright lawlessness.
Yet these same halls echo with voices proclaiming the knowledge and love of God, encouraging we the people to turn away from sin and toward God. If I read the words on their own, I see truth in them. But once linked to their speakers those same words sound tinny, hollow and hypocritical.
One particularly heartbreaking exposure for me was that of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church, whose book, Just Walk Across the Room, taught me invaluable lessons about authentically loving others as the path to true evangelism.
Last week, on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke this beautiful truth:
Lent is for rediscovering that we are created for the inextinguishable flame, not for ashes that immediately disappear; for God, not for the world; for the eternity of heaven, not for earthly deceit; for the freedom of the children of God, not for slavery to things. We should ask ourselves today: Where do I stand? Do I live for fire or for ash?
This from the man who has presided over the enslavement of God’s children and a culture that promoted sexual abuse of millions of children worldwide, even as he has refused to remove abusers; reluctantly accepted the resignations of others while calling them “selfless shepherds;” and referred to outraged survivors as the devil’s friends.
The beat goes on in churches of all denominations and sizes…
God is Not Surprised
While I am overcome with shock and outrage to witness God’s leaders leading people off the cliff, I suddenly realize this:
God is not shocked, nor surprised.
In fact, he warned King Solomon as he completed the temple:
“If you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut Israel off from the land that I have given them; and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight; and Israel will become a proverb and a taunt among all peoples. This house will become a heap of ruins; everyone passing by it will be astonished, and will hiss; and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of the land of Egypt, and embraced other gods, worshiping them and serving them; therefore the Lord has brought this disaster upon them.
1 Kings 9:6-9
If you’ve read the book of Kings in the Bible, you’ve traveled the bumpy road of human leadership through 40 kings, some better than others, but fallen and sinful all.
God Works through Sinners; No One Else is Available
Yet God chooses to work out his salvation plan through broken, sinful people. Hypocrites all. Why? Because no one else is available.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
In fact, this very truth was penned by a murderer of early Christians, the man who held the coats of those who stoned Stephen. God used Saul, reborn as Paul, to write nearly half of the New Testament and some of the most powerful truths for our times.
God’s kingdom work cannot be derailed by humanity. He can speak truth through the hypocrite, show mercy through the hard-hearted and shine his love in the darkest places through the most unsuspecting and undeserving vessels, including me.
As I rail in righteous anger against shepherds who lead their sheep astray, I come to realize that the only difference between them and me is the size of the flock.
How many times have my words and actions smacked of hypocrisy when held up to the light of my beliefs? How many times throughout my life have I failed to live into who God called me to be, and instead indulged in the delights of this world, while wearing his proverbial cross around my neck?
Good News: There’s a New King in Town
My head hangs in despair, realizing once again that humanity is helpless to save itself—and that this is as true for me as it is for the Pope.
In truth there would be no hope at all if not for Jesus, the one who said:
Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Jesus said this after cleansing the temple of the cheats and moneychangers. Do you see the irony and relevance? I’ve recalled that cleanup often as I’ve watched the public excoriation of one denomination after another over recent years.
The only voice we can trust, the only name we can believe in and not be disappointed is the one who fulfilled this promise:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Luke 4: 16-19
He meant it. He lived it without failing. And he continues, miraculously, to fulfill this truth through the lives of each of us who belong to him, sinners and hypocrites all.
Will you join me this week in focusing our eyes on the beauty and wonder of Jesus—the way, the truth and the life; the only hope for a weary world.