Monday, 23 March 2009

'A Wretch Like Me' by George Verwer

George Verwer is probably one of the most well known missionaries around today, he is also one of the most honest.This message must have cost him a lot to bring, but it resulted in many young people, who were going through similar temptations, finding some help!George doesn't pull any punches about his own failures and encourages those who have also failed to find forgiveness and grace in Christ.

Having said that about George, I think I remember another well known missionary who once cried out that he was a 'wretched man' and later referred to himself as 'the chief of sinners'.Then man speaks about the grace of Christ and how much greater it was than sin :'where sin abounds,grace abounds all the more'-And the missionary? Of course it was St.Paul! AK

Sin is serious and incessant, but you don't have to live in defeat.

Once when I told my story at a missions conference, a woman informed me I had a demon.

Another time I told my story, and shortly afterward one of our mission ships sank. Someone wrote to me that was the judgment of God on me. (Actually, we had hoped to replace the ship; no one was hurt when it sank, and we thought of it as a blessing from God.) But I've come to expect that kind of response.

Most people don't want to hear Christian leaders admit their sins or say they still, on occasion, sin. And almost no one wants to hear a leader say he's come to terms with his sinful nature. But I have. And I say so publicly.

I wouldn't call my temptation by pornography an addiction. My exposure to it has been infrequent. I don't look at it online. I won't pay for it. And I haven't had regular access to the magazines since I was a teenager.

A neighbor prayed for me for two years, she said, and at a Billy Graham crusade at age 16, I had a powerful conversion experience. After that, I knew that the pornography had to go, and so I burned my few magazines. If it were not for my conversion, pornography could have become a terrible addiction. Still, through most of my adulthood, I was subject to awful temptations and sometimes fell.

Over the years, I can honestly say, I haven't gone looking for pornography. It comes to me. And it takes me by surprise. One time while riding to a strategic meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, I found a magazine left in the lavatory. That happened again when I was aboard an ocean liner en route to Scandinavia.

A defining moment for me occurred more than 30 years ago as I was walking in the woods outside London. From a distance I saw something hanging in the branches of a tree. It was a pornographic magazine, shot through with bullet holes. Someone had hung it there for target practice. Suddenly, I was the target.

I wish I could say I destroyed that magazine and got the victory, but the truth is, in the woods that day, that magazine made a fool out of me.

I was in the woods for quite a while after my lustful episode before I could crawl my way back to the cross and ask for forgiveness. Most of the time since then, I have been able to withstand Satan's temptations. I wish I could say that was true every time, but I'd be lying.

And, in the woods, I found a new approach to my own sinfulness: when I sin, I ask forgiveness. Time after time.

What's victory really look like?
What is victorious living for the sinner? The absence of sin? The defeat of Satan at every temptation? Going undefeated for a whole season? If that's the measure, then I fail. And, I suspect, we all fail, and we will continue to fail without relief.

In my own life, giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I estimate I successfully resist temptation maybe 95 percent of the time. But with the number of temptations we face, that's still a lot of failure!

Over the course of my 45 years as a Christian, I have failed, and not only in the area of lust. There are far worse sins than sexual failure with a magazine. In my own life, irritability and anger are greater issues. For others, it's arrogance, or condemnation, or legalism.

Victorious living, given our sinful nature, is not the absence of sin, but knowing what to do when we sin. 1 John 2:1 says, "sin not." It is John's desire that his followers will not sin. But notice the verse continues, "but if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ the righteous One."

When I sin, I am ready, quickly, to confess. And when I confess, I undercut Satan's power. Satan is the deceiver, the adversary who wants me to believe lies (either "I really haven't done anything wrong" or "I've sinned so horribly that I'm disqualified to serve the Lord").

By honest confession, my strength to battle the next temptation is bolstered by the knowledge that the Evil One has nothing with which to condemn me. Christ is my defender before the Father, and Christ says I am forgiven. Satan has nothing to say.

Since the moment of my salvation, I have never doubted God's word about his love for me. It is vital that we realize God loves us and accepts us—even when we fail. That has been life-sustaining for me. Even when rejected by people for my sins, or for telling about my sins, I have always felt God's love. I have an open invitation to return to him as soon as I am ready to admit that sin, once again, has gotten the better of me.

God's love is not a license to sin. Grace without discipline can lead to disgrace. While God can forgive my disgraces, for the Christian leader, too many disgraces and my credibility and people's ability to trust me as a leader is gone. Paul said, "I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize" (1 Cor. 9:27). If I had not dealt with my habit quickly and kept it in a small arena of my life, my sin would have grown to the point that I would be disqualified. It is only through the power of Christ that I am able to bring myself under subjection.

I have made myself accountable to my wife in the area of lust, and she has been an enormous source of affirmation for me. She prays for me. She listens to me. I report my occasional struggle to her and she does not condemn me. I remember telling her, now as an older man, that a quick glimpse at pornography had caused quite a stir in me physically.

"Well," she said, "at least it proves you've got something left." I can be honest with my wife, and she with me.

A sinner mentoring sinners
I have tried to be affirming for those who seek from me an accountability relationship. As creatures bent to sinning, we cannot master our sins alone. We need others who accept our sinfulness, but who will keep us from surrendering to it.

My special "mentoring" ministry began with my own public confession. I was invited to speak to the Urbana missions conference in 1967. My message was not about missions. It was about sexual sin.

That was the first time I gave my testimony in a large setting. Some were upset that I spoke so bluntly, but I told those young people that they, like me, needed to repent of sexual immorality. Some 4,000 stood up at the invitation, many weeping with repentance.


1 comment:

Andrew Kenny said...

I have spoken at Urbana three times since then, and every time, I am inundated with people who need someone who will hear their struggle without condemning them, and point them again to Christ.

One young man wrote to me from the mission field. He asked me to meet him at the border of the country where he was stationed. He was grieving over his sin. He couldn't even verbalize it, so he typed out a page describing his addictions. I took him on as a partner for one year. (I've always had students traveling with me.) This gave us the time to work through his problems. Later he returned to the mission field, and today he has a wonderful wife and family.

He needed someone who would tell him, from experience, there's hope. Too often the church gives false ideas of holiness. We all want to mature in holiness, but it takes time. Growth comes with age and experience. Legalistic principles aren't the answer to the human sin mystery. I urged him to seek the balance between grace and discipline.

And I encouraged him to read more widely. Books about the heroes of the faith must be leavened with honest appraisals of their failings. Even the greatest among us are as much sinners as saints. We must set before ourselves realistic examples of those who have pursued holy standards and, in our halting two-steps-forward, one-step-back fashion, got near them.

Leaders who admit their vulnerabilities, and even their failures, walk with a limp. But I suppose that's what makes it possible for hurting people to catch up with us to ask for help.

God's service is handicapped accessible
Despite my limp, God still uses me in his service. (This is part of the mystery of grace, for me.)

As a very young Christian, I was in Indianapolis passing out tracts just outside a nightclub. The club's billboard caught my eye, and soon I was seated in the third row watching the show. It was a striptease. Within a few minutes, a rush of emotion hit me. I realized where I was—the evangelist, his pockets stuffed with tracts, was ogling young women as they took off their clothes one piece at a time. I ran from the club to the bus station nearby and into a phone booth. I didn't pick up the phone, but I called out to God.

"Oh, God!" I pleaded. "Forgive me, forgive me."

I didn't feel forgiven, but I knew his promise to forgive us if we ask. Some minutes later, I told myself, "I'm forgiven. Thank you, Lord." And I left the phone booth.

But after the forgiveness comes the condemnation. "God can't use you. You've failed him," the Accuser said.

Before I could say anything, a man walked up to me. I expected him to ask for the time or directions to the bus, but he started telling me his troubles. In a few minutes, he asked, "What's the answer?" Within an hour, we knelt by the War Memorial in Indianapolis, and he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.

I couldn't make up such a good story.

Satan wanted me in the strip club, going deeper and deeper into the degradation of lust and pornography. His back-up plan would have me wallowing in the anguish of the phone booth for the rest of my life. But by God's grace, my repentance, and receiving forgiveness by faith, I got back to God's plan, and he used me to lead this man to salvation.

If ever I needed evidence of forgiveness and restoration, I had it.

I'm a sinner, who's growing stronger through the years, who crawls back to the cross when he sins and finds God still loves him and will still use him to bring others to Christ. That's grace, isn't it.

George Verwer is Founder and Former International Director of Operation Mobilization, a world-wide missions organization based in London, England.

Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Spring 2001, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Page 52