Sifted and Refined, Blog No. 4(b): God, Man, and Christian Confession

I love reading church signage, particularly in rural areas. Sometimes the messages are so corny that you can’t help but laugh. “TO A DYSLEXIC ATHEIST THERE IS A DOG,” is one I saw recently. Other times their messages are so powerful that you are inclined to doubt, not the sincerity of the person quoted (they are often straight from the Bible), but the sincerity of those who posted them for all to see. Yesterday I passed just this sort of church sign. It read:

“GOD CAN HEAL YOUR BROKENNESS. JOIN US AND FIND RESTORATION.”

I briefly considered stopping, going inside, and asking the first person I encountered: “I just read your sign. I know that God means that. Do you?” Most of us don’t. I know that I often have not.

Reading last week’s blog, Nigeria’s great Bishop, Jwan Zhumbes, wrote to me:

“Keep going, brother. Once upon a time, the focus was Fixed Point, an earthly organization. Today it is ‘Grace Point,’ hinged upon Christ, a heavenly and eternal being and the source of fresh life…. Just as a dying person gasping for air needs to be placed on a hospital’s oxygen to be resuscitated, so does a sin-distressed soul need to be placed on Jesus’ grace to be resuscitated. Even the Saints need grace every day. No Christian life runs well that does not daily run on grace. Therefore, brother, unwaveringly point people, and especially sin-crushed Christians, on to Him, the source of grace.”

How poetic. The phrase “sin-crushed Christians” remained stuck in my head. If you read the blog that prompted the Bishop to cheer us on with this comment, you will know what a “sin-crushed Christian” looks like: heavily burdened, isolated, and not sure what to do. That certainly described me.

After the first blog in this series, a young woman contacted us. She identified strongly with the feelings I described. Movingly, she told us that she had been involved in an immoral relationship with a married man. She said that the relationship was over and that she had repented of it. Clearly grieved by what she had done, her repentance was, we felt, powerfully genuine. She used no names, indulged no details, and took full responsibility for her own choices. But she still bore the weight of her shame and guilt. She briefly considered talking to her parents but having heard them speak so harshly of people who had done what she had done, she said that she knew she could never tell them.

Her story is heartbreaking. Upon hearing it, I found myself searching my conscience for things I might have said at one time or another to make confession to me an impossibility for my children or, for that matter, for anyone else. The need for confession, be it of sin or a private grief or struggle, is very real. And yet, as this story and several we have not yet shared indicate, many people feel that they cannot confess their fears and failures because too often the Christians they see appear self-righteous, judgmental, and all too willing to gossip like any unbeliever. I have certainly been guilty of that. As we said in the last blog, grace is not an instinctual human response.

I am reminded of a moment more than a year ago. I sat in the passenger seat of the big BMW of one of my supporters. We had just had lunch and he was returning me to my office. A Trump supporter who would defend the President on a dozen infidelities, I knew that I could not expect the same level of understanding when it came to my own sin. He said he was proud of me and of my work. And then he warned me of the consequences of failure:

“If you falter at this point, people will say of you, ‘Whatever happened to Larry Taunton?’”

It’s strange what you remember about some moments in your life (especially after a traumatic brain injury). On this occasion, I recall briefly looking down the street at the Zeppelin docking station high atop one of Birmingham, Alabama’s office buildings. It had been built with the anticipation that “blimps” were the future of air travel. I had a fleeting thought of Betamax and then looked out of the window at the sweltering sidewalk and just sat in silence.

The comment had the effect of making me feel that I was trapped. I had already “faltered.” This was not a man to whom I could confess or from whom I could seek help. This was Law, not Grace. He had often called me his “racehorse,” and in this moment, I felt like one. So long as I ran well, I could expect his support. But break a leg? I know very well what happens to horses that break legs. I retreated further into myself and hobbled on.

My point is not to condemn this man. I’m sure that my sin is greater than any he has committed. Nor is it my point that we should confess our sins to anyone and everyone. Confession to the wrong person, be he a pastor, priest, or a friend, risks everything from receiving bad advice and gossip to destructive responses and broken relationships. Trust me. I’ve seen it. My point, rather, is that if we forget that the Christian faith is for people who recognize their broken and corrupt natures and that the Church isn’t a country club whose membership is for people who meet our social standards rather than Christ’s criteria for admittance, we risk making our religion and our places of worship inaccessible to unbelievers and sin-crushed Christians alike. And if we do that, where will anyone find the grace that resuscitates the soul?

Providentially, as I was finishing this blog, an article popped-up on my screen titled: Depression: Men of the Cloth are Suffering in Silence.” Published just last night, it is about the pastor of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California who recently committed suicide. The author of the piece writes:

“Many times, pastors do give their best in terms of time and resources to ensure their flock is satisfied, and well nourished, but receive nothing or less from the same flock whenever they fall in need. This does leave a majority broken, with a strong feeling of having been ‘used.’”

The article continues:

“People view pastors as some sort of demi-gods and yet they are normal human beings who face the same challenges everyone is going through. They therefore expect a lot from them and pastors are under a lot of pressure to perform, hence ending up burning out…. They are not angels and once in a while will face challenges, but as they share with someone they are able to get the necessary help they need and later on be of help to others who will go through the same issues.”

One can confess to the Lord with rock-solid reassurance of His response. Psalm 32, which has been a great comfort to me in recent years, says:

Then I acknowledged my sin to you 
and did not cover up my iniquity. 
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave 

the guilt of my sin.

But what of confession to man? Well, as I said in the Yellow Ribbons article, quoting a prominent evangelical, that’s a much riskier proposition. It has been said that it’s easier to receive forgiveness from God than it is from man. I can tell you from experience that this is a theological certainty. But as Galatians 6:2 indicates, we are not designed to relieve our own burdens. That means we be must careful of the unintentional messages we are communicating to the broken, wounded, and sin-crushed. Because you never know who might be listening. It could be someone you love.

So, in closing, I ask you this: could a sign like the one at the beginning of this article be placed outside of your church or, better yet, outside of your home, and the words accurately reflect what people inside say and do? To make all of this more personal to you, could the woman above have confessed to you and received in return a Christ-like response?

To make it more personal for me, could I have confessed to you? I’ve discovered through hard experience, that many times, the answer was an emphatic no.

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Responses from Readers

“It does my heart good to read of how other brothers and sisters in Christ are forgiving and not hypocritically judgmental. It also does my mind good for you to include a couple of brutal, mean-spirited comments from readers. I hope you will continue to share both types of comments, because it is the real world in which we live. ‘Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.’ – Romans 5.” ~ Joe

“Keep up your good work. In the ocean of God’s grace, even a broken vessel can be filled.” ~ Kellen, Vienna, Austria

“In your first blog you said that you and Lauri had a new ministry of listening to broken people. That sounds wonderful!” ~ Sara, Birmingham, AL.

Larry: Sorry to mislead you. That was just a manner of speaking. Many people have reached out to talk with us and have shared their own hurts, guilt, sin, and shame, but I didn’t mean that we had literally started a ministry that does this. I’m very realistic about my gifting, and while I have great compassion for the suffering and wounded, I don’t think my gifts are as a pastor or a counselor. Lauri has often said that I was “designed to take bullets.” She didn’t mean that literally—let’s hope not!—rather, she meant that I was born to fight.

“You are forgiven. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone but Him. Just sayin.’” ~ Paige, Pensacola, FL

Larry: Thank you. But one of the great lessons I have learned is that I don’t have to prove myself to Him!

“I feel compelled to object to your use of a particular word which appears in the third line of the last paragraph [of the first blog]. This ‘four letter word’ while being on the lower end of the offensive scale is still, nonetheless, vulgar and, I respectfully suggest, should not be part of the vocabulary of any Christian. A few years ago, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland used the word publicly. He is not a Christian. He was subsequently censured for this and made an abject public apology. Perhaps you should do the same.” ~ Ian, Dublin, Ireland

Larry: You are upset that I used the word “crap”? WTH? Sir, respectfully, I was raised on military bases and spent my childhood in the company of men who killed people for a living. They used very colorful language. Some of that has remained with me. Indeed, while you would never hear me take the Lord’s name in vain, I have been known to employ a bit of salty language myself! And I assure you, of all the things that I might be “censured” for, this does not make the list! LOL. Lauri: I have “censured” Larry for many things in the last year, but this was not one of them.

“I am thrilled that you are writing again. You are a great blessing to many and I pray that the Lord will continue to bless and multiply your ministry for years to come.  I look forward to the next blog!!” ~ Rich, Homewood, AL 

“I could not do and would not do what you did.” ~ Jim, Birmingham, AL

Larry: What am I supposed to say to that? Good for you? A man who declares he will never commit this or that sin risks the disaster that befell Peter after a similar declaration to Jesus. It’s foolish. Don’t do it. Satan will “sift you like wheat.” It is not in our own strength that we do not do evil things for certainly our very natures conspire against all of our good intentions. I went into battle one too many times without the full Armor of God and suffered a nearly mortal wound in the process. If I have learned nothing else, I have learned this: all of my own strength and energy and cleverness are not enough. It is only in the mercy and protection of the Lord that any of us are able to stand at all.

“Taunton is a powerful intellect. He has been articulate voice for Christ. But, what happened with him verifies the weakness of our flesh. He deserves our prayers.” ~ James

Larry: True and thank you. I will take all the prayers I can get.

“I found transparency and raw honesty [in your writing], and I loved it. In your writing, you make many statements that were the revelations that changed and blessed my life after I was freed as well. It’s where all of the knowledge I had about God in my head started to actually become something I felt and understood in my heart. Many people will benefit from reading this. Your openness through such a trial in your life and showing God’s guidance, healing, forgiveness, and restoration is encouraging. I wish there were more honesty like this in the world. Having Lauri write and give her feelings also may be one of the best parts for me. Her example is also rarely seen. She has given an amazing example of what it looks like to be Christ-like in hard situations and how to love with Christ’s love.” ~ Cheryl, Birmingham, AL

Lauri and Larry: We are greatly encouraged by your kind words. Larry: Lauri has been an inspiration to more than you know.

“I know that the public nature of this had to be hard on you and your family, but it seems to have had the opposite effect of what was intended. It has liberated you and forged you into something the Lord can use more powerfully. If you were still hiding, you wouldn’t be doing this blog! I think you are more dangerous than ever.” ~ Donald, London, UK

Lauri and Larry: We have just prayed that the Lord would use even this to bring honor and glory to His name. Maybe He is doing that.

“I pray that God may bless you and continue to give you the boldness for the stand you take.” ~ Adam

“Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.  I read with great fascination your journey around the world and loved following your excursion with your son. I pray that you continue to find healing in this broken world.  I am most grateful for Dr. John Lennox and his wife and his loving friendship to you and Lauri and others that have stood with you on this painful journey.  Praise God! We all have brokenness in our lives.  We lost a beautiful daughter to suicide…. I am grateful for a loving, merciful God who helps us pick up the pieces of our broken lives and mend them back together.  May your lives together continue to grow deeper and closer and know that we are forgiven people by an infinitely loving Savior.  Thank you for sharing such painful stories.  It is simply a reminder to me again and again that there are no perfect people in this world and no perfect families. We all have a story.  We must embrace and accept the cleansing power of the Cross and walk in His grace.” ~ Sidney, Nashville

Lauri and Larry: Thank you for sharing with us and for your kind and powerful words. We pray for your healing, too.

We end this week with a song that has some bearing on today’s blog theme.

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