I feel bad for Randy Travis.
I’m not a big Country Music fan, and so it’s not that. I know that he was big in the industry at one time. In fact, an article I read about him this week in the paper gave him and George Straight credit for having saved Country Music from losing its way in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I don’t know, maybe he did, but I don’t listen to Country Music enough to know that it even took a wrong turn back then. I couldn’t name a Randy Travis song if my life depended on it.
It could be that I feel so bad for Randy Travis because his favorite New Mexican Restaurant out in Santa Fe and my Favorite New Mexican Restaurant out in Santa Fe just happen to be the same New Mexican Restaurant out in Santa Fe! While I’ve never seen him there, from the clippings, notes and pictures of him on the walls, I know that he eats there a lot, and if I lived in Santa Fe, I would too. Maybe I feel bad for Randy Travis because I know that we have similar tastes, at least when it comes to red and green chili. But I doubt that my feelings for what’s happening in his life right now could be sufficiently accounted for by the Scoville scale.
So, what is it? Why do I feel so sad for Randy Travis right now?
Well, I’m sure that the sordid details of his arrest for public intoxication last week out in Grayson County together with those memorable mug shots have something to do with it, that, and the fact that Randy Travis is my brother in Christ. You see, in the 1990’s Randy Travis made public his personal commitment to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and began recording and performing in the Christian Music industry where he got just as much recognition and won just as many awards as he had previously gotten in the Country Music world. Randy Travis has been just as big a star in the world of Christian Music as he was previously in the world of Country Music. And that’s why I feel so bad for Randy Travis right now.
The secular press and the late night comedians are having a heyday with Randy Travis right now. Ridicule and not sympathy is what they have to offer him while he is down. But as bad as that is, I fear that what the Christian community has in store for him is even worse. As someone observed a long time ago, “the church is the only army that shoots its wounded.” When a high profile Christian falls into moral and spiritual failure, the condemnation and repudiation that comes from other Christians is shameful to see and hear. It is proof to me that we really don’t “get” grace or have truly come to terms with the Gospel.
In his 1974 collection of sermons, No Little People (IVP), Francis Schaeffer included one that he called “The Weakness of God’s Servants.” My dog-eared copy of this book flops open automatically to this message; in fact, it’s where the pages in my copy begin to separate from the spine. You see, I have shared this sermon with more friends and ministerial colleagues through the years than I can number; and it is familiar enough to me that I can quote large swaths of it from memory. In it, Francis contrasted the “realism” of the Bible with the “romanticism” that characterizes so much popular religion in our day. He explained that “knowing that all men are sinners, frees us from the cruelty of utopianism” (45). It is “hard-hearted” and a “monstrous thing” to expect perfection from ourselves or other Christians before Christ returns. Francis Schaeffer wrote –
Utopianism is cruel because it expects the impossible from people. These expectations are not based on reality. … Even after redemption, we are not perfect in this present life.
…In the home… nothing is more cruel than for a husband or a wife to build up a false image of his or her spouse in his or her mind and then demand that the husband or wife measure up to this false romanticism…
Utopianism is also harmful in the parent-child relationship. When a parent demands from his or her child what that child is incapable of giving, the parent destroys as well as alienates that child. But a child can also expect too much of his or her parents. …because a parent doesn’t measure up to a child’s concept of parental perfection, the child smashes his or her parents too.
Utopianism is also destructive with a pastor and people. How many pastors have been smashed because their people have expected them to live up to an impossible ideal? And how many congregations have been injured by pastors who forgot that the people in their churches could not be expected to be perfect? (47)
Now, Francis Schaeffer didn’t suggest for even a moment that sin isn’t serious business with devastating consequences. But – and this is where Francis Schaeffer becomes profound, and why I love him so – when we sin, God is not finished with us. When we forget this, or ignore it, we get surprised by pictures like those of Randy Travis in the paper last week. Again, listen to what Francis Schaeffer wrote –
Bible-believing Christians should never have the reaction designated by the term “shocked.” There is a type of Christian who constantly draws himself or herself up and declares, “I’m shocked.” If he is, then he is not reacting to reality as he should, for it is as much against the teaching of Scripture to romanticize people, himself or others, as it is to try to explain sin away.
…Christians should be able to show more understanding to people than anybody else can. We should not be surprised when another person demonstrates that he is a sinner, after all, we know that all of us are sinners. When someone sits down with me to talk, I try to convey to him (even if I do not express it in words) the attitude that he and I are both sinners… we stand in the same place… To project “shock” as though we are better slams the door shut. Each of us does not need to look beyond ourselves to know that men and women are sinners. (46)
This is important to remember whenever a high profile Christian believer winds up drunk and naked in a ditch on a farm to market road somewhere out in the country. It’s not good. It’s not supposed to be like that. But it’s not news that Christians mess up; sometimes dramatically. And when they do — when we do —- I John 1:5-2:2 needs to be so familiar to us that we turn to it reflexively, like when the doctor hits your knee with his little rubber hammer. Go ahead, get your Bible out now and look it up — you’ll find I John towards the back.
As you read it, I’ll offer a few observations –
1:5 – God is holy, it’s part of God’s essence, which is why sin matters. It can’t just be brushed aside as inconsequential.
1:6 – This is the call to holiness. When we are in relationship with a holy God, we will be conformed to His image. We will be squeezed into His mold.
1:7 – These are the benefits of salvation – we are in right relationship with God, in right relationship with others, in right relationship with ourselves. This is what forgiveness does.
1:8 – If we are forgiven, then clearly we have a rap sheet and a reputation. There’s no pretending that we don’t struggle with sin. It has a hold on us.
1:9 – But our sin doesn’t have the last word. God’s g race does, and confession is the delivery system; it’s what gives us access to the riches of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ.
1:10 – Said again just so there are no questions, no evasions.
2:1-2 – This is the meat of the augment, so go slow, take it by phrases –
The First Phrase – Because of who God is – “holy” – this is what’s expected of us who belong to Him – “not sin.”
The Second Phrase – Only when you have paused long enough to take in the full impact of this first phrase are you permitted to move on to the second phase. This is the “realism” of Christianity that Francis Schaeffer was talking about. Sin is a contradiction of who we are as children of light and a deep affront to the holiness of God. We are not supposed to sin. But when we do — and we will, remember: “Even after redemption, we are not perfect in this present life” –provision has been made for us. We have an “advocate” with the Father – that’s a reference to a defense attorney, to somebody who is on our side and pleads our case – Jesus Christ “the righteous” who is the “propitiation” for our sins – that’s a great big complicated theological word that refers to how an offense gets dealt with in the heart of the offended so that it doesn’t interfere with the ongoing relationship. It’s a reference to grace, to how God Himself removes the hindrance that the rebellion of our sin creates in our relationship with Him. Now note, all of this is addressed to Christians – to people who aren’t supposed to sin because they are already in a right relationship with God, but who do nonetheless. No utopianism here.
The Third Phrase – Now John is talking about people who aren’t Christians – this is what he means when he talks about “the whole world.” What Jesus Christ does for us who are Christians is what the Gospel makes available to them as well. This offer of forgiveness is not just made to us who know that Jesus Christ is the Savior. The offer of forgiveness is made to everyone. But if we who have accepted this offer of forgiveness fail to extend it to our brothers and sisters in the community of faith who stumble and fall, sometimes spectacularly, how is the world ever going to know that it is available to them too, or that it is a credible offer?
The paper reports that somebody bailed Randy Travis out of jail last week. Somebody put up the bond money, got Randy Travis into some clean clothes and walked him out of jail. Now, I don’t know who did that, but I hope that it was a Christian, a brother or sister in Christ. I hope that at what had to be one of his life’s lowest moments, somebody who knows I John 1:5-2:2 by heart showed up in wreckage of Randy Travis’ life and made visible and tangible the love, acceptance and forgiveness of the Gospel, pointing him in the direction of grace.
It’s all he’s got; It’s all any of us do. DBS+