There was an old preacher in Wales in 1735 which none of us have probably heard of because his messages were in Welsch. His name was Daniel Rolands. He was an Episcopal minister who was spiritually dead. No one liked his messages; his church was dying. He thought Christianity meant being a moral person.
He went to hear a man preach who was visiting, who said, “The determining factor in your relationship with God is not what you have done, but what Christ has done for you. It is grace alone, through faith alone because of Christ alone.” Daniel went back and thought about this for a month, until one night he was taking communion and this truth exploded in his heart. He realized what Christ had done for him and it became a power to him.
The first thing that happened to him was a revolution in his identity. This is always what happens first in someone’s life as the Gospel becomes objectively and subjectively true. You see yourself and a child of God first and everything else second.
Secondly, the things that once controlled his life and scared him, like failure, simply lost its hold on him. He no longer was ashamed of the Gospel.
This truth exploded in his church and it began to experience revival. This revival flooded out of the church into the streets of Wales to the degree that the prostitutes began to attend prayer meetings and morning services.
People were inquiring as to why this was happening so they went and asked one particular prostitute why she was going to these meetings. She said that there were a couple of factors. One was that the business had but left. People were no longer visiting the streets and looking for prostitutes. But the most important factor she said was that for the first time people on the streets began to treat her with dignity and respect. She couldn’t deny something was going on and had to come see.
This woman had previously been vilified by the religious people who spat upon her and scorned her and she was used by the irreligious who objectified her and treated her like peace of meat. Not any more.
Now if the Gospel had not come in power to these people, what would have happened if it were just religion? Well, she may have no longer found clients, but she would have been more severely vilified and made to feel less human by the religious who spat upon her and scorned her. Instead, these people were converted by God’s grace who understood the Gospel and treated her like she’d never been treated before.
This is the power we need, this was the essence of the Christian faith, and this will cause a revolution.
Here's the thing that struck me. The gospel caused the Christians of the town to stop protesting (vilifying) the prostitutes and to start treating them with dignity. It was the gift of dignity that led to repentance, not the hammer of confrontation and condemnation.
I can see this applying in so many ways today. How about in the death of Anna Nicole Smith? One thing that dumbfounded early Roman society about Christians was the dignity with which they treated the dead and the burial rites. One Roman whose name escapes me now expressed amazement that, not only do the Christians take care of and treat their own dead and dying with dignity, they do the same for those not their own. It occurs to me that most of the reactions to Anna's death have been either of scorn or pity. Pity beats scorn, but dignity is better. I have been happy to see several Christian blogs treat Anna's death kindly, but I think the best thing I have seen is from comedian Larry Miller, who was not only kind and compassionate, but treated her with dignity. He said "she was a nice girl," and "I liked her."
I also think of all of the latest buzz about Britney Spears. To be sure, her life gets more bizarre by the moment but I am wondering if there is a way of discussing her that communicates dignity and respect toward her. No one else is doing so, is there a way that Christians can.
And as I say these things I realize that probably no one reading me has any contact with these people, it's not like I'm going to have a conversation with Britney or her people any time soon. But I still think we ought to watch how we talk about them. We are surrounded with people who feel that their life is out of control and who are screwing up left and right. It seems to me that if our conversations reflect dignity and respect toward celebrity screw-ups then maybe the "ordinary" screw-ups who populate our lives will think they too can find dignity and respect in the midst of a world of scorn and pity.
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