I am friends with and minister to men and women who most people, and many churches, shun (except for arms-length “programs”, if even that). Pick a vice – any vice – and I’ve likely come beside and embraced those in bondage to it: former drug addicts, narc dealers, sex offenders, embezzlers, thieves, gender benders, Satanic ritual abusers and even murderers.
Because I’ve been willing to see past the sin and accept the common humanity we all share – not as one who is perfect but as a someone willing to walk with them as we sort out our individual imperfections together under God’s mercy and grace – some of these folk are now following the Lord.
I love such people, because daily I see how God creates beauty out of their ashes.
I am blessed, because I serve a God who, above all, creates. He takes destruction – what has become void and without form, in the words of Genesis 1 – and brings wonder and life and order. . .
. . . and He delights most of all, I’ve found, in redeeming lives that many think are beyond hope.
To bring restoration from ruin, Jesus went to the cross – not for the best of us or for the good in us, because there is no one who deserves His mercy or His grace. Rather, He did it because of His intense love and desire to restore lives by conquering the sin and death that we’ve voluntarily embraced and allowed to enslave us.
For me, if this gospel of hope doesn’t work for the “worse” of us, then it doesn’t work for any of us.
But I’ve learned some hard lessons along the way.
I’ve learned that you can’t pull, push or prod a person to become whole – even after they’ve encountered God’s mercy and grace.
I’ve learned that even when someone encounters God’s mercy and grace, there is always an element of personal responsibility. We have to decide to die to our old self and our old patterns of thought and behavior, and let His mercy and grace transform us – step by step – into the person He calls us to be.
I’ve learned that God’s mercy and grace are freely offered, and there is nothing I can do to deserve them. But I’ve also learned that they cost me everything – including letting go of my own selfish needs, wants and desires.
I’ve learned that even after accepting Christ’s mercy and grace, we still have to decide – and have the will – to change. Otherwise, there is no real hope for us.
I’ve learned that having the will to change is not simply a matter of overpowering, though our own strength, the things that are bondage in our lives. Rather, it is the will to transparently confess, repent, forgive others and receive forgiveness – thereby letting God transform how we think and what we believe about ourselves, Him, others, the world in general, our past, and the circumstances of our lives.
I’ve learned that healing only comes if we let God’s truth, and his perspective, replace the lies that bind us.
I’ve learned that healing, however, is not the same as health: Apart from having the will to change and to grow in spiritual maturity by daily walking in the freedom He brings, we won’t become whole and complete – no matter what others do to “help” us.
I’ve learned that those who God calls to be fathers to the fatherless can’t “fix” anyone. Rather, we are to simply and humbly offer wise advice and be examples they can emulate as they strive towards maturity. But they have to decide to change — we can’t do that for them.
I’ve learned that some get what they want from God, but no more, because it’s still all about them and their needs. After all, in Luke 17, ten lepers got what they wanted and were healed of their disease, but only one – who decided to return and stop focusing on himself by giving thanks – was made whole.
I’ve learned that some make it, and some don’t.
I’ve learned that those who make have stopped being victims – of themselves or their circumstances or their past – by deciding to take ownership over the consequences of their prior bad decisions and by taking ownership over doing what’s necessary to become the men and women God calls them to be.
I’ve learned that those who make it have also dropped their attitude of entitlement – that God or society or others own them something – and exhibit instead an attitude of gratitude.
I’ve learned that you can help such men and women — not because they are perfect, but because they are finally dealing with their imperfections.
Finally, I’ve learned this hard, hard lesson: If someone decides to constantly remain stuck in their sin, immaturity and hurts – to continue being a victim and entitled – “helping” quickly crosses the line into “enabling” because it facilitates continued bad choices. This causes more harm than good.
I’ve learned that I need to find joy in those who decide to move forward and live truly redeemed lives, and not be consumed by grief over those who don’t. (This is a hard one.)
My prayer it this: Dear God, give us all the grace, the wisdom and the courage to understand the difference between helping and enabling.
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