The Normal Christian’s Experience is Not the Normal Christian Life
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. Bill Gillham; ©2000|
|Sadly, many prominent Christians in recent years have been felled by sins of the flesh. It’s a trend that goes all the way back to Bible times (remember King David?). Dr. Gillham explains that, although this may be common Christian experience, it is not the “norm” that God wants for us.|
The Normal Christian’s Experience Is Not the Normal Christian Life
(from his book What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity)
My friend Frank was driving me from the airport to the church he pastors in Baton Rouge, where I was to conduct a seminar. He exited from the hectic chaos of the freeway, then turned onto a quiet street bordered by relatively undeveloped land. The change of pace was welcome. Some impressive, modern buildings appeared in the distance to play visual tag with us through the trees. It seemed as though we were approaching an area of considerable activity, but I saw that I was mistaken. The road evolved into four lanes divided by a median, but there was no traffic. We had the broad avenue to ourselves, traveling between what appeared to be empty dorms, vacant classroom buildings, and ambient structures. Then it dawned on me: This is what is left of Jimmy Swaggart University—built to bring glory to Christ, but now a hollow reminder of the weakness of one man’s flesh!
The silence of the abandoned campus produced its mirror image inside our car as Frank picked up on my pensive mood. To our left we passed a picturesque walkway lined with dozens of tall silver flagpoles, most of which pointed empty fingers at the sky—a somber reminder that their once-proud service of displaying the multinational flags of a worldwide ministry had collapsed in shame. I felt a deep sadness in my spirit because of the black eye that Jesus had received due to Brother Jimmy’s moral failure.
I imagined the thousands of students, visitors, supporters, and staff who once graced this marvelous facility. Anonymous faces of thousands of young Christians flashed through my mind—faces glowing with the excitement of becoming a part of this godly campus ministry where Jesus Christ was lifted up as a testimony to this dark world. Then their dreams were shattered by a devastating blow. Their human champion, their charismatic leader who had led tens of thousands to Christ, had been exposed as a moral failure and then as a rebellious brother; unwilling to submit to the discipline of the church. Not many things are sadder than a fallen Christian leader.
Perhaps you may have the attitude that Jimmy Swaggart is yesteryear’s news, or there may even be someone who’s asking “Jimmy who?” “C’mon, Bill, give us a fresh, new story.” While it’s true that Brother Jimmy’s saga is now relegated to the archives, his struggle is as old as Samson’s and as contemporary as “Good Morning, America.” Every denomination has skeletons of fallen former champions in its closets; hey, many churches do. Perhaps the problem has even touched your family. Of course, Christ does not depend upon man to defend His reputation. We can, however; enhance or degrade His reputation among men by the way we live. Fallen Christians doubtless never set out to be an embarrassment to Jesus or serve as Exhibit A to many of us that “there, but for the grace of God, go I….” But haven’t you asked yourself (as well as God) if there isn’t a biblical answer to the accelerating problem of powerless lives which are common to pew and pulpit? We would agree that this is a far cry from the abundant, victorious life over the world, the flesh, and the devil that Jesus promised.
A 1991 survey of pastors, conducted by the Fuller Institute of Church Growth, revealed the following information about the professional and personal lives of the clergy:
- 80% believe pastoral ministry has affected their families negatively.
- 33% say being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
- 75% report a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
- 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
- 90% feel they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry.
- 70% say they have a lower self-image than when they started.
- 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
- 37% confess having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church.
- 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
Have we taken a wrong exit off the freeway somewhere along the centuries of Christian tradition? And if so, can we identify it and get back on the overcoming path? I believe the answer to both questions is yes.
Most of us can’t identify with Brother Jimmy’s voyeurism. But when you generalize from the temptation which is unique to his flesh and substitute your own besetting sin, you thank God that you don’t have to “work out your salvation” before a worldwide television audience. If you’ve never experienced it or witnessed it firsthand, it’s difficult to imagine how power, once attained, can become treasured, especially to a male. When that power is on a roll, it’s a heady narcotic that can make a person, saved or unsaved, feel that he is due special privileges. He thinks, God is blessing me. What is one little sin like this going to hurt? It’s not as if it’s hurting anyone. Besides, God will forgive me and, what the heck, we all sin. Or if such power is lost, it can spiral him into the depths where he’ll be more vulnerable to the temporal salve of using a coping mechanism to ease the pain, to feel better through substitute gratification. This can take on as many forms as there are human appetites, whether these be physical, psychological, or spiritual.
A county judge, ostensibly a Christian, lived down the block from us years ago. He must have ordered his suits from the Southern County Judge uniform factory because as he drove by our house in his big Caddy wearing his white suit, he looked like Colonel Sanders with a cowboy hat. This guy didn’t walk into a room, he swept into it! The most dangerous place to stand in our town was between His Honor and a potential vote. It’s a shame that he was born a hundred years too late to ride a white horse and wear a cape. Attorneys were realizing large American dollars from their fees, and I always wondered why the judge would not only forego getting in on that action, but would spend significant sums of his own money seeking reelection to an office that paid a fraction of what he could have acquired in private practice.
Then one day I received an invitation from the county. They invited me to attend a party called “jury duty,” so of course I “felt led” to attend. When I had the chance to watch the judge in action in his natural habitat, my questions were answered about why this man served at such financial sacrifice. He was “god” in that courthouse. It was “Judge” this and “Judge” that. “Yes, Judge” and “No, Judge.” Men and women alike jumped when he said, “Frog.” And I mean he ate it up like a man coming off a 40-day fast; he gloried in the power of public office. The good judge had surrounded himself with underlings and was loving the role of overling. I had the impression that he would have served without salary. Believe it— he loved wielding that gavel.
Such a narcotic can take on many manifestations. Even pastors are vulnerable. Theflesh being what it is, if a man happens to be a pastor who receives multi-accolades fromboth brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s tough to avoid believing that they’re right! The devilhas gotten more than one godly man to slide down into disgrace by savoring his own press clippings.
I know a man—a bi-vocational pastor/politician—who fell. He’s with the lord now, but since he repented and then was very transparent about his moral failure, I don’t think he would mind my discussing his flesh with you. He showed great promise of becoming a godly man even as a teenager. He was the type of kid that every mother and dad would wish to have as a son or son-in-law someday. He was handsome, humble, intelligent, pure of heart, winsome, athletic, and best of all, totally committed to becoming all that God intended for him to be. He could have had women lining up for him like a rock star, but he retained his purity. What a package! He had the personality skills to become whatever he desired. He decided on a career in politics, and the people in his home area hailed his ascent to high public office with joy, as all of us would have.
You’re bound to have heard of him. He actually encouraged folks to call him by his first name—David. After a glorious career, King David began to get sort of “long in the tooth.” Even though Nolan Ryan, the great right-hander for the Texas Rangers, still had enough mustard on his fastball to pitch a strong game at age 44, he finally had to hang up his spikes. Today’s baseball players report for spring training when the daffodils begin to bloom, but in David’s day the macho guys marched off to war. David had celebrated his forty-seventh birthday, and the old sword arm just wasn’t what it used to be, so he stayed behind and watched as the army marched off to fight the current bad guys.
How do you suppose David felt about his masculinity as he went into the locker room to hang out with the soldiers who were laughing, joking, and polishing up their weapons? Do you suppose he felt left out? What would he feel as he saw one of his own sons getting some advice on swordsmanship from his commander instead of asking Dad? Do you suppose he stood before his mirror after his shower and disapproved of what he saw? Do you think he made mental comparison of his physique with those of the young warriors who were now singing as they marched out the gates toward the battlefields?
I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that David was not exactly doing cartwheels after the gates to the city had closed and he had gone up on the palace roof to listen to the last weak strains of the band as it marched over the hill. Do you suppose the devil tried to use this downer to slip notions into David’s thought-life—perhaps even thoughts of resentment toward God for not enabling David to remain physically fit as a reward for his years of meritorious service. Did David think, You let Moses remain fit till he was 120. Why not me? I belong with my men! Do you suppose David may have had a pity party with an invitation list of one? Would this make him feel even more dejected and lonely? Of course, to all of this.
It’s evening and he had read every scroll in the house. He’s frustrated, a bit depressed, bored…. Man, I’ve got to get some air, David may have thought. And as he walked out onto his rooftop, he may have moved slowly to the edge to place his hands on the solid mass of the rail and looked down. Man, it’s quiet. So quiet with all of my men gone. Splash, swish. What’s that? Who is that? Wow! Oh, my! Folks, he was the king. He had the power. All he had to do was say the word, and Bathsheba was his for the night! It’s not that I’m going to do anything. Her husband, Uriah, is gone. She ‘s probably as bored as l am. I’ll have her over for dinner. We ‘II just talk. What’s it going to hurt?
What do you do to break monotony, to ease frustrations, to relax, to escape from responsibility, or whatever? Some men are highly tempted to do what David did, and if they fall and they’re Christians, they hate themselves for their weakness. Some men who have been given the stewardship of power often use that power to sate their flesh. Sad to say, many of these men are born-again, yet many have no knowledge of how Jesus Christ holds the secret to their victory over the flesh. The Spirit of Christ living through them can overcome their flesh.
There is nothing quite so sad as the tale of an effective Christian whose ministry was launched with the spiritual equivalent of a Super Bowl half-time show only to blow its fuses and leave the “spectators” choking on the smoke. Gang, moment-by-moment victory over evil is not a reality for many sincere Christians with a heart to glorify Christ. Their actions fall far short of their desires due to having no knowledge of how to let Christ express His overcoming life through them.
Although this is the normal experience of many Christians, it’s a far cry from the normal Christian life that the Bible describes. I would guess that most Christians believe it’s inevitable for us to sin hundreds of times per day (when you include the sins of the thought-life), and they’ve settled into this fatalistic mode until they die or Jesus comes. The Bible does not teach that our physical death is God’s provision for our freedom. It teaches that Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit is God’s provision for our freedom. Since that is so, then why is the body of Christ not enjoying this freedom? What’s the problem? Did some significant truth that is able to empower us to victory either fall on deaf ears or fall instead through the cracks and leave many of us crippling along with dirty spark plugs? This was certainly my case. I never dreamed that God had a solution already installed in me. Perhaps this is the case with you as well. If so, let’s open God’s love letter to us and trust the only One who can teach us the mind of the Lord—the Holy Spirit—to give understanding of how to appropriate the victory that is ours in Christ.