Today’s post is from the heart of my friend, Danny Sims. Danny and I went to college together, so I’ve been learning from him for a long time. Enjoy.
“The older I get, the more grateful I am God has given so much grace to me. And the less concerned I am about how much grace God gives other people.”
My dad, who died one year ago Sunday, said something like that to me often.
And Friday Billy Graham’s friends and family eulogize and lay him to rest.
I’ve been thinking about my dad and Billy Graham.
They didn’t have much in common, really. But they both loved the old hymn, “Just as I am.” I remember dad often humming it whenever he was driving or doing simple tasks around the house. It was Billy Graham’s standard altar call at his revivals (it was the song being sung by the church when Graham dedicated his life to God). Verse one says our only plea is the blood of Jesus, and every barrier between God and a broken human is resolved by a love impossible for a human to fully know.
Does God accept anyone and everyone, just as they are?
My dad also often said,“Christians sing a much better theology than they practice.” My dad was far from perfect, but I think he had this right.
A woman named Charlotte Elliott wrote a poem in the mid-1800’s that became “Just as I Am.” Ms. Elliott, who never married, suffered from severe depression. The biographical sketches of her life describe a frail and constantly fatigued woman. While her brothers were well-known members of the Church of England clergy, Charlotte was on the outside looking in, weak and insignificant. At least that is how she perceived herself. We know because she wrote about this many times. She probably heard a variety of whispers. Something inspired her to write of her “conflicts and doubts,” her “fightings within and fears without.” Ms. Elliott was a marginalized, depressed, frail, unmarried woman of a certain age.
And she wanted to come to God just as she was. I can imagine most saying, “ Of course she can come to God!” Sure she could. She wrote a famous hymn and her brothers were Anglican ministers.
But what about someone who hasn’t written Billy Graham’s “go to” invitation song?
Someone not quite so easy to accept.
What about them?
The Bible stories about Jesus are essentially a collection of stories about how God loves and accepts people the religious majority thinks of as unacceptable. To a disabled man left outside a crowded house Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then for the sake of the shocked and judgmental crowd gathered, He also said, “Take up your matt and walk.” To a deaf man Jesus says, “Listen to this good news.” To the man blind from birth Jesus says, “Now see here” (in that particular story the careful reader gets the impression it’s not the blind man who can’t see). Those people and their issues are scandalous because under the Law crippled people, deaf people, and blind people are not even allowed to enter the Temple. They cannot come to God “just as they are.”
The good news is Jesus comes to fulfill the law. With grace He invites them inside.
One time a woman with a constant menstrual cycle (unclean and unacceptable) was so desperate she pushed through a crowd to just touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. And once a Canaanite (Canaanite? Aren’t they all supposed to be dead?) woman begged favor from Jesus and He ridiculously says she has great faith. And once Jesus said there was a man who had more faith than anyone He had ever seen in all Israel. He was a Roman Army officer.
You can’t make this stuff up. It is “law fulfilled by grace” gone mad. And it is really upsetting to the hyper-religious person. Like the time the Pharisees dragged a woman out, in public, so they could debate Jesus. That’s what hyper-religious people do. Religion makes an argument out of human brokenness. But not Jesus. He says to the adulterer, “I do not condemn you.”
Someone familiar with this story will likely remind me how Jesus also told the woman, “Go and sin no more.” Yes, Jesus said that. He probably always says that still. He sure enough says it to me.
I have not quite mastered “go and sin no more” yet. How’s it working out for you?
Besides, who is the “go and sin no more” police? Maybe there is no arena where this is argued (or avoided) more than the LGBTQ conversation.
If a straight sinner wants to belong, do you tell them to master all their issues first? And if you think being gay, is just too complicated or disgusting for you (as if your capacity is the standard for God’s acceptance), do you disregard them and tell them you’d just as soon they go to hell?
It seems Billy Graham struggled with this. In 1993 he told a crowd of almost 50,000 people in Columbus, Ohio, “Is AIDS a judgment of God? I could not be sure, but I think so.” Soon after, Graham told a reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “To say God has judged people with AIDS would be very wrong and very cruel. I would like to say that I am very sorry for what I said.”
I’m not standing in judgment of Billy Graham. I do think he got it wrong there and I’m glad he gave that retraction. My dad taught me to accept gay people. I think dad got that right. I’m proud of my dad and his insistence that he would rather show too much grace than too little, all the while emphasizing gay people needed no more grace than he did. I’m not judge of any sinner, gay or straight. I want to believe those words of that hymn, the favorite of my dad and Billy Graham. Any one of us can come to God just as we are. Life in a broken world is messy. And it’s not always easy. No one knows that better than Jesus. And if His followers take Him seriously, they will open their hearts to His example.
As a side note, if you are one to quickly point out Jesus tells the adulterous woman to “go and sin no more,” be sure to give equal emphasis to a great Jesus quote that precedes it all: “You who are without sin throw the first stone.”
Another side note: I wonder if the objections in the LGBTQ conversations are really about sexual purity. I was a pastor for 25 years and I don’t recall much talk about abating promiscuity among heterosexuals as a prerequisite to their acceptability in the church. Some Christians have been taught, by example as well as word, to dislike LGBTQ people. Maybe they are unaware their dislike has become hostility and has turned to condemnation. Or maybe some are aware and they feel justified in it. Condemnation of LGBTQ people among Christians could be a last refuge for proof-text prejudice. Should we hurl our stones before Jesus even has a chance to talk?
After the resurrection and ascension, Philip went many places he had never been before. He baptized a eunuch* which was unacceptable under the law, but acceptable under grace. He embraced Samaritans, also intolerable under the law, but encouraged under grace. The Apostle Paul had been the main persecutor of Christians and later called himself “chief of all sinners.” Yet Jesus accepts Paul. As you might know, Paul was single. He was a man who had a “thorn in his flesh” he begged for God to take away. A thorn in the flesh? Chief of sinners? Single? What was really wrong with Paul? For God’s sake, shouldn’t we know before we let him in?
God sees things differently than we do. The Bible’s stories are truly less about people than they are about the character of God. That’s why Billy Graham said “Just as I Am” is the strongest possible Biblical basis for the call of God because it says we accept broken people (disabled, deaf, blind, Canaanite, Roman, adulterer, Pharisee, eunuch, persecutor, chief of sinners, gay, or straight) the way God does.
I don’t consider the LGBTQ person to be the leper or the disabled or the bleeding or the blind or the chief of sinners. All that describes me. Like my dad, I have received so much grace and don’t believe I can give too much away. I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have all sinned and fallen way short. We have logs in our eyes and should calm down about whatever is in the eyes of others.
Let all people come to God, just as they are.
I’m with Charlotte Elliott, glad to come to God just as I am. My only plea is the blood of Jesus. I am lost and broken, miserable, marginalized and insignificant. Full of conflicts and doubts, fightings within and fears without.
I come to God the only way a broken guy like me can.
Just as I am.
You mean God accepts broken people?
Is there any other kind?
*there is enough research on the term “eunuch” to occupy quite a bit of time, to say the least. It is possible the term, in the time of Jesus, referred to a wide category of men, including those castrated as well as gay people. One occasion Jesus refers to men as “born eunuchs” which can mean a variety of things. I have read quite a bit of the material and am persuaded that regardless of why or how the man baptized by Philip was a eunuch, he is met with grace, love, and acceptance. The law demanded the eunuch stay on the outside. Jesus opens the door and the eunuch is accepted. Acts 8 tells the story of a human being, a eunuch, who came to Jesus just as he was and “went on his way rejoicing.”