I was listening in the background to a friend praise a man he had recently met. He was obviously quite enamored with this individual, and rightly so. His description went something like this: "A great guy, a wonderful Christian, loving husband, faithful, great father, loves to spend time with his children, very successful at work and in his finances. He's a great boss, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, an elder in his church, hates smoking and drinking, not a hint of scandal about him. Its obvious God is with him."
I could see the air being sucked out of some of the other men listening in the room. I knew that they wanted to be admired as this man was. But I also knew some of their secret back stories--the divorce, the bankruptcy, the scandalous behavior, the shame, some pretty stupid decisions--and that they could never live up this heady description of the "successful Christian." They had failed the commercial, political, and religious systems and truly believed they had, therefore, failed God.
These weren't the kind of men to look for sympathy or empathy. All they wanted was to be real, in real relationships with God and others. But how could they be real and honest when pitted against this particular model of success, this measuring rod for God being with them? They were caught between a God who loves sinners, misfits, losers, and rebels and the systems that they were part of and wanted to be recognized by. They were living a lie and working hard not to be uncovered. It was as if kingdoms were clashing in their midst, one by one.
Hit especially hard was the divorced man. He didn't understand why he would be viewed so critically when he saw others in leadership neglect their wives and families to advance their careers in the businesses of commerce and religion. He was frightened that the very system he had worked so hard to succeed in--at the expense of losing his wife and children--would now condemn him for the failed marriage.
Another was worried about his failure with the Chamber of Commerce part. He didn't want anyone to discover that he, a deacon in his church, couldn't pay his debts and was contemplating filing for bankruptcy. He didn't realize that the man next to him had filed bankruptcy twenty years earlier. That individual was now greatly esteemed by commerce, but feared being shamed if anyone found out his past. He certainly wasn't talking, either.
I knew some of the other confidential stories and mistakes in the room, either in the past or ongoing struggles: the adultery, pornography, food addiction (a hard one to hide but not as quick to be condemned), bankruptcy, abortion, tattoos that were looked at strangely, at least one same sex couple and another hiding the fact, a man with a mistress, a pastor with a wife he never spoke to, an evangelist with a wife dealing with depression that she could not talk about. All were potential losers to one or more of the systems, if their true stories were told, if they could be honest with one another. Shame and the fear of being shunned kept them silent.
Most, at one time, had been advocates of a stricter interpretation of the Bible, fundamentalists at the core, trying to live by the law, wanting to elect so-called Christians who would uphold the platform of the silent majority, the moral majority. Now they were wanting to admit they were failures of the Law and silent losers in the system.
I had to speak up because I needed to tell them of another man I had heard of. He was a man who claimed to have integrity and character but was a poor husband, an adulterer, and a miserable and absentee father who allowed chaos in the home. He was a liar, instigating the death of several men and their families. He murdered a loyal friend to steal his wife. He was occasionally depressed, discontent, and very discouraged.
It amazes me that he found others like him hiding in a cave. Skillful men and women, very creative and very hungry to find relationship with God and with man. Seems there were some 300 to begin with. They were bankrupt financially, spiritually, emotionally. They were running from the systems that wanted them dead.
His name, of course, is David, a king, of the bloodline of Jesus picked by God, the only man of whom God said, "I love him because his heart is after me." And of these followers were the mighty men of David, recorded with other losers in the faith chapter (Hebrews 11).
These are the kind of God-loving people I want to hang out with. They weren't in fear of the systems; they were in love with God. Bad people, in the eyes of the religious, political and leaders of commerce, very bad, but great in the eyes of God. Men and women who knew they were losers, rebels, disenfranchised, shunned, shamed; who knew they needed a God like the God of the Bible, a God who declares His unflinching faithfulness, and is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, merciful, truthful, covenantally faithful and forgiving seventy times seven. "You can't fall so fast that I can't catch you," He re-affirms.
So, people will ask, "Are you approving of lying, adultery, murderer, drugs, alcoholism, divorce, abortion, same sex marriage, homosexuality, bankruptcy, liberals, obesity, greed, and Hollywood?" I have to respond, that's not the point. I am thankful that I am no longer the sheriff or the judge. I am thankful that my God has loved me through sin and continues to love me through my sin, my lifestyle choices and my lack of concern for those He loves so dearly, the poor.
I am thankful that if I do the only thing He asks me to do--love Him with all and love my neighbor as self--I have fulfilled the great command, the new command and am slowly transforming into a Father pleaser no longer focused on sin but on loving my neighbor. And I only want to love sinners the way God loves sinners, the way He loves you and me.
I am eternally thankful that I serve a God who is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, merciful, truthful, covenantally faithful and forgiving. I am thankful for a God who has not judged me the way the systems judge me, or written me off as the systems would, or called me a disgrace to Him.
I am thankful that He established His Kingdom on earth for people like that, or should I say, people like me. I know that where my theology fails regarding grace and mercy, slowness to anger and forgiveness, covenantal faithfulness and truth, my God doesn't because He is love. And love never, ever fails.
When I get fearful of the systems of man and the judgment of the systems, I go to the chapter of faith and glance at the names of the people, real people whose lives shone because God declared His love and righteousness over them as He did with King David. No way, God, we say. No way all of these people are righteous or deserve your love. They broke Your laws and ignored Your wisdom. Not these people. Not David. He was a sinner beyond sinners. He broke every law we hold dear.
How do we explain God's love and favor for these people who are breaking the laws? God whispers His secret: "David was a man after My own heart. He was a loser, but he loved me with all His heart."
God, you are a mystery to me. Your love overwhelms me, but if I start preaching Your love to losers, to the garbage of our system, it will get me crucified. "I know," He answers. "That's what happened to My Son. He talked like that. He said, 'I love sinners. I'd rather go to a party with the sinners than anywhere else; I love to eat with them, listen to their stories and tell them of my Father who loves them more than they can fathom.' And look where it got Him--crucified by the very ones who said they loved Me."
Change is inevitable and kingdoms are clashing, always with a price to be paid.
David VanCronkhite David.VanCronkhite@gmail.com