"So, if you think you are standing firm,
be careful that you don't fall!"
(1 Corinthians 10:12)
There was a rather peculiar story in our local newspaper about a nun with a gambling addiction. It is alleged that she stole $128K from two churches that she worked in. The article says that the theft happened over a four year period, meaning that this particular nun ripped them off to a tune of approximately $32K per year, or if you will, $2,600 per month. The story goes on to say that the theft wasn't even discovered until a new pastor decided to do a routine audit.
I can appreciate the need to do a routine audit, and one can speculate as to why the theft wasn't discovered sooner, or whether or not she was even really a Christian, but for me, that isn't even the real issue here.
At the risk of sounding legalistic, the real point here is about the importance for all Christians, and maybe especially those in any sort of leadership capacity, of themselves practicing that which they preach. It's not even a case about stealing versus not stealing; it's about doing what is ethical and right. It is about being a functional leader, as opposed to a dysfunctional one. It's about those in leadership being responsible to those who follow them and have put their trust in them, as opposed to being unfaithful and breaking that trust. Finally it's also about facing all the spin-off damage that spews from poor and unethical decisions. Sadly, this case is just one more in the already too long list of fallen church leaders.
We would do well to reflect on what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 2: 21-24 (NIV) when he said,
"You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: 'God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'"There is an old pat answer that says, "Christians aren't perfect; they're just forgiven." Have we over used that to justify our disobedience to God? However true that saying may be, I think of the damage that is done to the Gospel message, and to our witness, when Christians fall. It doesn't matter if we are talking about theft, adultery or those little white lies; they all lend themselves to questionable perceptions among the unbelieving world toward the church and the Good News that it supposedly preaches. When we fall, the world doesn't care about the reasons why we fell, but "God's name is blasphemed" all the more by them when they see us living in a way that goes contrary to what they understand Christianity to be.
I remember a story I heard from the biker community a while back. At a rally, there was a Christian biker who had his leather vest with his Christian-themed patches ripped right off his back by a secular non-Christian biker. Why? As the story goes, the non-Christian biker was apparently offended by what he perceived as an immoral lifestyle in the Christian biker, and so he figured that if the Christian was going to live that way, then he had no right to wear a Christian patch on his leathers.
I find it interesting that, while the non-Christian world often sees the truth of that, many in the Christian community strangely seem not to, or simply have justified away the immorality in their own lives. Please understand that I am not judging anyone, nor am I suggesting that I have my life all together either, but sometimes I think that I have to agree with Brennan Manning who said,
"The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."Is the greatest cause of atheism today Christians who preach one thing and then live differently themselves? At the very least, I believe that it is a contributing factor. It is about our testimony. It is about the way others perceive us to be, and then making their own judgment call as to the claims of Christianity based upon what they see in us. Do the perceptions of others matter? As I wrote about in Jesus Loves You, But Everyone Else Thinks You're An *#@%*&#^#!, absolutely they matter. We are being watched and we are being judged by the world, whether we like it or not. My heart aches when I think of some of the unChristlike things I have done and the potential damage to my witness that followed. Still, God is able to work in our short comings and failures too, and we have to trust that His sovereign plan will still come to fruition, either with us or despite us.
"... so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11; ESV).
As for the nun that stole all that money, all I can really say is, there but for the grace of God go I. Will I judge her for what she did? No, but maybe I would do well to pray for her, just as I would when any one else that I personally know and fellowship with struggles and stumbles. Perhaps, as DC Talk sang, I would do well to ask myself, "What if I stumble? What if I fall?" It sort of changes our outlook on the faults of others when we ask that question, doesn't it? If that happens to me, and I pray it never does, I would hope that others would also gather around, not to judge and shun me, but to pray with and for me.
God help us to have the mind of Christ in this. Peace.
God help us to have the mind of Christ in this. Peace.
DC Talk "What If I Stumble?"
"Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die;
Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty
nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise
I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?'
Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."
(Proverbs 30: 7-9; NIV)
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