We Are All Drunk On Something

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I love how Jesus related to damaged and demoralized people. Don’t you?

A woman is caught in the act of adultery. In committing the act, she wrecks a home. She brings shame upon herself and her community. Then, pious men decide to publicize her shame to make an example of her. The man with whom she committed the act is not exposed, but that’s another issue for another time.

Concerning the woman, “Lawbreakers must not be tolerated,” they think. “She must be condemned for her behavior, cast out for her infidelities, shamed for her shameful act. She must be made into an example.”

This is what happens in a group of people who pride themselves on things like Sabbath keeping, personal piety, sound doctrine, but are lacking in love. A coliseum culture develops. Everyone rallies around a common enemy – the sinner. Robbers, evildoers, tax collectors, adulterers and adulteresses. And then the pouncing and the piling on and the mobbing. The shaming and the scolding and the disapproving. The calling out and the canceling.

What’s wrong with the world?

“Other people,” says the mob surrounding the adulteress. “What’s wrong with the world is other people…those who aren’t one of us.”

But Jesus does not participate in this. Instead, left alone with the adulterous woman, he simply says to her two things:

1. I do not condemn you.
2. Now leave your life of sin.

The sequence of these two sentences is everything.

Reverse the sequence and you’ll lose Christianity.

Reverse the sequence and you’ll also lose Jesus.

With Jesus, preemptive declarations of grace and love and no-condemnation establish the environment for conversations about truth, morality, and ethics. According to Jesus, there is no other way than this.

After nearly three decades of pastoral ministry, I have never met a person who became an enthusiastic follower of Jesus because a Christian or group of Christians scolded them about their morality or their ethics.

Have you?

Once we were having a small prayer gathering with some friends. Before we started to pray, in came a married couple who had been invited by someone in the group. The man, who I will call Matthew, was very drunk, and his wife had this I’VE BEEN THROUGH A WAR, CAN SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME, I’M DYING INSIDE look written all over her.

As we prayed together, the intoxicated Matthew decided to chime in. His words were slobbreing words, an incoherent prayer that continued for over ten minutes. He petitioned God Almighty for some of the strangest things:

God, protect us from the Klingons. God, I really want a Jolly Rancher right now, will you bring us some Jolly Ranchers? God, will you please move all the bananas into the doghouse? And bless the grass seed, Lord. And the fertilizer! Amen.

After the last person prayed and we all said “Amen,” everyone looked at me.

What will the pastor do?

Thankfully, I didn’t need to do anything because a woman from the group, full of grace and love and no-condemnation, offered Matthew a cookie. As the woman fed him sugar and engaged in conversation about Klingons and grass seed and such, others approached his wife, begging for insight on how they could help.

This little interaction, this way of responding with grace and love and no-condemnation AS THE FIRST ACT IN A SEQUENCE, became one of the most transformative experiences I have ever witnessed.

To make a long story short, the kindhearted offer of a cookie led to a tribe of people coming around the couple and their two young children, which led to a month of addiction rehab in Arizona – including flights and personal visits to and prayers and support offered at the rehab center by our little prayer group – which led to Matthew getting sober, which led to a restored home and marriage, which led to Matthew becoming a follower of Jesus, which led to him also becoming an elder in the church where I was pastor at the time.

To this day, Matthew may be the best and most impactful church elder I have ever worked alongside.

Anne Lamott tells the truth when she says that it’s okay to realize that you’re crazy and very damaged, because all the best people are.

Matthew and countless others are proof of this very fact.

Grace and love must come before ethics. No-condemnation must come before the morality discussion. It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance, not our repentance that leads God to be kind. Love – the broad embrace of the narrow path – will trigger some of the most life-giving experiences we’ll ever be part of. In the end, the more conservative we are in our beliefs about the Bible – the more we truly believe and seek to embody every single word of it – the more liberal our loving will be.

The narrow path of Jesus always leads us toward an ever-broadening embrace.

How can we begin to live in such a way that Matthew stories become the norm versus the exception?

How can we create environments in which this kind of properly-sequenced love flourishes?

Here’s how. We must first realize that LOVE is the environment that we ourselves are already benefitting from. LOVE has to be a Person to us before it can become a verb. And the One who is LOVE Incarnate – Jesus – doesn’t just love us when we’re at our best.

Jesus also, and especially, loves us when we are at our worst.

He loves us when we are caught in the act. When we fall asleep on him instead of watching and praying with him. When we deny him three times. When we become his prosecutors and his persecutors. When we enter his prayer meetings drunk – drunk on a self-medicating substance like Matthew was, or something more subtle but no less destructive.

Drunk on our ambition.

Drunk on our greed.

Drunk on our gossip.

Drunk on our grudges.

Drunk on our reputations.

Drunk on our pornographic imaginations.

Drunk on our religion and our virtue and our self-righteousness.

All of us, the lot of us, drunk.

Drunk as a skunk drunk.

In our drunken places, Jesus draws near and asks, “Do you like cookies? May I get you one? Will you sit with me? How about rehab…may I accompany you there? May I pay the fee? May I come alongside you toward sobriety, then a new life, then a seat at my Table, then a job in my Kingdom? I went to the battlefield, I loved from the battlefield, to launch this love trajectory for your life. Protection from the Klingons. Sweeter than Jolly Ranchers. All you need is nothing. All you need is need.”

These words from one of my favorite hymns says it all:

Come ye sinners, poor and needy
Weak and wounded, sick and sore.
Jesus, ready, stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power…
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream.
All the fitness he requires
Is to feel your need of him.

How do we love like Jesus?

It starts with resting and receiving. It starts by stopping.

Perhaps we should stop trying to love like Jesus and instead, first learn what it means to be with him, yes?

Because the more we are with Jesus, the more we will become like him. Love is caught more than it is achieved. Get close to LOVE, and love tends to rub off.

Let’s pursue this path, the grace and love and no-condemnation path…shall we? Then, and only then, will we gain credibility to weigh in on things like truth, morality, and ethics, too. But maybe we won’t even have to, because grace and love and no-condemnation have a way of making people want to change without having to be told to do so.


Scott’s latest book, A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us-Against-Them
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9 responses to “We Are All Drunk On Something”

  1. Shonte says:

    I like this article a lot because it emphasizes God’s kindness. However, I think it’s wise for us to keep the necessity for righteous behavior, as God defines it, in full view and focus. Should we love our neighbors? Should we love strangers? Should we love friends and family? Our enemies? Emphatically, I say yes, though we know that doing so is so much easier said than done. I believe that pursuing the Christ is the road to righteousness. As we strive to be more like him, we show better character and more love. We become better people. But we are in error each and every time we try to define Christianity as being a very tolerant, permissive faith. It is a faith of self-discipline and obedience to Christ, and in that self-discipline and obedience we are well served and magnificently blessed by the Lord who shows us favor.
    I also enjoyed the point about walking with the Christ and being with him. It encourages me to spend more time with him, even today.

  2. Excellent post, Scott. I really enjoyed the example about the woman in your Bible study offering the cookie. It’s easy to believe we always offer kind responses, until we witness someone else truly demonstrating it while we awkwardly avert our own eyes. It’s a wake up call, of sorts, that helps us become more aware, educated, and ready to move the next time we see an opportunity. We all have something to teach each other based on the experiences we’ve had. So many judgements would fall away if we just took the time to listen to each other’s stories. Personally, I think cookies solve a lot of problems, and they are a great accompaniment to any story. ?

  3. Camille Anding says:

    Great message! Now to walk in it!!!

  4. Julie Poehlman says:

    I grew up with an alcoholic father. He was a Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde. As a young believer I prayed often for his salvation. One day a local pastor came and spoke to my father on the front sidewalk. My Dad was probably 3 sheets in the wind. I watched hopefully from our window. It did not end well. My father became quite angry and the minister got his dander up. There would be no prayer for salvation. I was so angry at that minister for being holier than thou.
    Years later I married a pastor/church planter. One of our elders met people at the door to welcome them and give a bulletin. He was very upset that a man would show up to church half drunk. I said ” What better place could he go to hear the Gospel ? I had hoped our young church would be a soul hospital. But I had to learn that Jesus calls us ” ragamuffins” to Himself, in His time.
    Great article. I’ve wandered off and on the grace pathway all of my life. Very grateful He waits for us.

  5. Charles says:

    Excellent post. Thank you Scott!

  6. David says:

    I’ve personally experienced this kind of love and been a recipient of grace with the same transformative power.

    It was big step for Matthew and his wife to come to the prayer meeting. The took a huge risk to come out of hiding and to trust that God would meet them there. Perhaps its when our sin is exposed (either voluntarily or by circumstance) and brought into the light that God brings hope and healing. Its then that a Bible study becomes a place of renewal and fulfills the promised miracle of restoration of the Gospel.

    2 Corinthians 5: 17 – 20 NIV

    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

    Thanks for the wonderful messages of hope and encouragement.

  7. Brady Mayo says:

    You completely missed the message. Love first! is the message. I find that anytime love first is preached that the “elder brother” begins to emerge. I am not condemning you for we ALL have the prodigal and the elder brother in each of us. But remember that whenever love first is preached we must ask ourselves some questions when our response is “yeah, but…”

  8. brady mayo says:

    This is by far one of the most important messages that we will ever hear! Thank you so much Scott! Remember that some people will not like the “love first” message!

  9. Delaine Mazich says:

    Pastor Scott, thank you. By no mistake God perfectly placed your message while traveling through my rabbit hole tonight. Such a thoughtful, God-sent, meaningful message. We try to make things so difficult as followers but all Jesus wants us to do is have the cookie ready. I’ve been beating myself up for not carrying the Kingdom in human measurement and self-focused on legacy that I seemed to have missed the offering of the cookie that I easily offer each day. Why do I keep trying to rise up to human “successes” when all I have to do is find someone each day who needs a cookie. Thank you so much for this life altering message.

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