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James Merritt - Tender Loving Care

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    James Merritt - Tender Loving Care
TOPICS: Serving Others, Love

And I want to begin by saying to those who are watching online, by television, those at our Mill Creek campus, those that are here in our Sugarland campus, this can happen to anybody and it can happen to the best of us. It happened to a man that I would have considered one of my dearest friends. Would have trusted this man with my life. We used to go to youth camp at my former church. He was the camp director. And yet in one weak moment in his life, he got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time attempting to do the wrong thing and he went to prison. I went to federal court to testify in his behalf as a character witness. What he did was wrong. He deserved to go to prison but it's been well said, "Never mistake the moment for the man" and I knew this moment did not represent this man. Nevertheless he fell. He went to prison.

It was such a devastating experience that not too long after he got out of prison he took his own life. Can happen to the best of us. It happened to two of my closest relatives. Neither one of them is what you'd call a hardened criminal to their friends and their family. They would be known as good people but both of them got caught up in a momentary lapse of poor judgment and once again wrong place, wrong time, did the wrong thing. Two of my closest relatives. One died in prison. The other spent over a decade of his life in prison. All three of these people fell into sin and by themselves they couldn't get up. When all three of those situations happened, I was faced with a big decision, both as a pastor, as a friend and as a member of the family.

So what am I gonna do about it? How am I gonna handle it? What did all three of those people need from me the most at that time in their life and what did all three of those people need from the church at most? And that answer is found in a little book in the Bible called Galatians and if you have been coming in, I hope you have, with one of these little booklets, we're on page 18. You'll find the scripture passage we're in to today. And by the way, if you don't have one of these, we've got some out in the lobby. Pick one up on your way out. We're gonna be in these for a while. We're in a series in the book of Galatians that we're calling "Free at Last".

This is a letter that was written by a man named Paul to a bunch of new believers in a church called Galatia and the problem was there were some legalistic hypocrites who had kinda moved into the church. They were kinda these holier-than-thous people that thought they had more figured out than God does and they basically come into the church and said, Grace is not enough, Jesus is not enough, faith is not enough. You gotta do what we say and do it the way we do it or you will never be right with God. So Paul writes this letter to these new believers letting them know Jesus did not come to give us more rules and more regulations and more restrictions. As a matter of fact, Jesus didn't even come to give us another religion. He actually came to free us from religion.

So, the problem is we've got this situation where we've got people who either don't know God and they need to come to God or you've got people who have come to God but they've fallen away from God. And we've got a ministry to both of those people. So if you've ever wondered, for example, maybe you're new to church, you've never grown up in church, don't know much about church, you ever wondered why do you have church, let me just make it very easy. We exist to fulfill two functions as a church and the day we quit fulfilling either or both of these functions, we ought to sell this property, shut the door and go do something else on Sunday morning. We have a function or a ministry called reconciliation and we also have a ministry called restoration. That's what we do. That's the only two jobs that we have.

Let me tell you the difference. Reconciliation is our ministry of bringing unbelievers to God. Restoration is our ministry of bringing believers back to God who have fallen away from God. So to give you a medical analogy, if the church was a doctor, we would be an obstetrician. Our job is to bring new babies into God's kingdom. Our job is to deliver people who don't have life into a kingdom where they will have life. So we're to share with people, we're to share with our ones how to be born again as children into the family of God and we're to help deliver them into God's family. However, God's children sometimes fall. God's children sometime mess up. God's children sometimes blow it. God's children don't always disobey their father and they get caught in a trap of some sin and if they have a healthy conscience, that sin becomes a burden that is so heavy and so crushing they fall down and they can't get up and they can't get out.

And they carry that burden with them all of the time. That's one believer. Then you've got other believers, their problem is not sin. Their problem is not shame. Their problem is sorrow. Their problem is suffering. For example, some of you right now you walked in here, you put on your Sunday best. You put on your Sunday face. You got this big front going on. You've got people fooled. People look at you and say, man, you must have it together. You look great, you look sharp. Life is good. You're hitting on all eight cylinders, but your marriage sucks. And you're either going through a painful divorce or you're thinking about it. Or you've got a child that's on drugs or in jail. Or you're suffering from a debilitating disease.

So where one person may bury the burden of sin and shame, you've got another believer burying the sin of sorrow and suffering. Well, what I want to share with you this morning is this. Whatever your burden may be, if there's one place where people carrying either burden ought to feel like they can go and find grace and find love and find mercy and find acceptance, it ought to be in the four walls of this building. It ought to be right here in this church. This is where people ought to say, this is where I need to be. So, the question I want to answer is, how do you treat people who are broken down? Who are burdened down? Who are breaking down? 'Cause we need to make sure somebody famously said that we don't become a museum for saints. We become a hospital for those who are sinning and suffering. How do you do it?

So maybe you know someone right now and they're caught in a sin. They're caught in the trap of alcoholism or adultery. They have an unbitter, unforgiving spirit. They are in maybe battling depression or they're going through a very difficult divorce. How do you handle those broken, burdened believers? And Paul gives us and this church, three wonderful pieces of advice. He says, first of all, we are to gladly restore burdened believers. We are to gladly restore burdened believers. He begins in Galatians 6:1 saying this. Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.

Now Paul is giving a hypothetical situation. He says, look, let's suppose you know of a fellow believer. This is someone who says they know the Lord, they say they've trusted Christ, but they've been caught in a fall. Now that word caught basically can have two meanings. It can refer to someone who's been caught up in a sin. They came into a tempting situation. They didn't handle it well. They blew it and they fell flat on their face. Or it can mean someone who has been caught by someone in a sin. The point is what Paul is talking about is not a bad person. They're not a wicked person. This is not somebody who's sinning and they're happy about it. This is someone who is caught in the trap of sin. They want to get out but they can't get out. They want to get up but they can't get up.

And I've seen this all in my ministry. I have seen pastors who have lost their ministry and lost their marriage and lost their family and lost their testimony and lost their witness and lost their influence and lost their church and I've never met one yet that it happened this way. I've never met a pastor that just got up one morning and said, you know, I think today I'll just blow it. I think I'll cheat on my wife. I think that I'll get into drugs. I think I'll embezzle money from the church. I think I'll blow every bit of influence and every bit of witness I have ever had in my life. I think today I'm just gonna let God know I'm through with Him. Never happens that way. 100% of the time here's what happened. They allowed themselves to get into a bad situation. They allowed themselves to get into the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person, they did the wrong thing and before they knew it, they were caught in a sin.

That's who he was talking about here. This is a brother, a believer, who is caught in a sin. There's a great biblical illustration. You remember the story of David and Bathsheba? Let me tell you what didn't happen that night. David did not go out onto the porch. It probably was a hot night, maybe he wanted some fresh air, maybe he was bored. I can promise you, David didn't decide to get up off of his couch, go out to his porch.

He didn't go out there and think, you know, I think tonight would be a great night to commit adultery. I think tonight would be a great night to get another man's wife pregnant. I think another great idea would be to kill the husband to cover it up and then I'll marry her and live happily ever after. That is not the way it happened. He just went out on the porch maybe to get a breath of fresh air and instead of turning around, which he should have done, going back into the palace, which he should have done, before he knew it, he is caught in this spider web of sin.

That's exactly who Paul is talking about. Now, the question is this. If a fellow believer or believers learn about this person's sin, what do they do? So, you know someone. They're a friend. They claim to be a follower of Jesus but they're not living the way they ought to live. They've done something they shouldn't do and they're doing things they shouldn't do. They're not living the way they ought to live and you know that they're not. What do you do? Do you shut 'em out? Stick your head in the sand and hope it goes away? Pretend it's not happening? Ignore it, forget about it? What do you do? Now keep in mind, it's important to understand we're not talking here about an unbeliever. This is someone who is far away from God. They're living in unbroken sin, they're rejected God and they sleep like a baby. This is not someone that needs reconciliation. This is someone that needs restoration.

Here's a fellow believer and he's been caught. And by the way, that word carries with it the connotation of being caught by surprise. In other words, again, they weren't looking for sin. They didn't go out intentionally meaning to blow everything they'd ever worked for all their life. They just fell into a temptation trap and they got caught in this sin. This is not about an unbeliever who lives in unbroken sin. This is about a believer who has been broken by sin. This is not who that person really is. And by the way, we've got examples of this all through the Bible. Moses murdered an Egyptian but Moses was not a serial killer. Peter denied Jesus but he was not a God-hating atheist. David committed adultery but he was not a lascivious playboy. So what Paul is asking is this.

Okay, church, when a child of God falls, when a child of God blows it, when a child of God is wallowing in the mud of sin, what are we going to do as their brother and their sister because this is a family affair. Paul says, here's what we ought to do. We ought to restore that person. By the way, it's a beautiful word. The word restore is a medical term. Actually it's a surgical term and it refers to the setting of a broken bone or a dislocated joint. So that'll give some of you, in fact, I'm gonna make a lot of you feel good today, okay? People that don't know me that well or they don't feel like they can be very informal around me, they call me Dr. Merritt, 'cause I have a doctor's degree.

Well, as I was preparing this message, I've realized, you know what, I got to tell the church something today, you ready? I'm not the only doctor in this house this morning. I'm looking at a bunch of doctors out there because if you know Christ, if Jesus is your Lord, if you're a part of the family of God, you have a spiritually medical responsibility to mend broken believers. You have the responsibility to put broken homes back together and broken hearts back together and broken hopes back together. I'm not the only doctor in the house. So let's just take this analogy, okay, let me tell you what Paul is saying here. Let's suppose you're walking down the street and you come on this guy, let's say it's a guy. He's on the sidewalk and you're a doctor and you automatically realize what's happened. You don't know how it happened but this guy has a broken arm or this guy has a broken leg, all right?

Let me ask you a question. So what does that guy need at that moment, right? I mean he's writhing in pain, his arm is broken, his leg is broken. What does that person need? Well, before I tell you what he does need, let me tell you some things he doesn't need. He doesn't need you to rejoice over his broken leg. You say, what do you mean? Sometimes, let's be honest, we're kinda glad when somebody falls. We're kinda glad when somebody blows it. Preachers are really bad about this. Some highbrowed celebrity pastor falls and there are a lot of pastors out there secretly going, I'm so glad that guy fell. I never even liked that guy. Got a bigger church than I do. Got a bigger ministry than I do. Man, that's another one you can take off the shelf. We don't need to rejoice when somebody's broken. Tell you something else.

We don't need to rebuke someone who's broken. The last thing you, don't you love this, you come up on the guy with a broken arm, first thing you do is you say, well, been lookin' where you were going, you wouldn't have broken your arm. You've been watching for the red light, you wouldn't have broken your leg. Shame on you. No, they don't need you to preach to them, lecture them, tell them it's their fault. You weren't watching what you were doing, where you were walking. You weren't paying attention. In other words, we don't need to throw rocks at them or kick them when they're down. They don't need that. I'll tell you something else they don't need. We don't need to rejoice, we don't need to rebuke, we don't need to report their broken arm.

We don't have to go tell everybody else, Have you heard about that guy? You know what's going on in his life right now? And oh, by the way, while we're in the neighborhood, I've been wanting to say this for a long time 'cause I know some people think people like me are stupid sometimes so let me just kinda set you straight. Don't try to camouflage your gossip by calling it a prayer request. I'm not that stupid. You know we do that. Hey, don't tell anybody but we need to pray for this brother. Don't tell anybody but we need to pray for this sister. And oh, by the way, I'm telling you. No. When you find someone that's broken, they don't need to be rejoiced over. They don't need to be rebuked. They don't need to be reported. They need to be restored. They need that broken bone to be set.

So here's the point. When you find someone who has sinned, they've blown it. You haven't blown it but they've blown it. You're not where they are. The only person you ought to talk to, the only two people you ought to talk to is that person and God. You don't need to really talk about anybody else or to anybody else. And see our job is this. We're to set that arm, we're to help them get back on their feet 'cause there's nothing more biblical, there's nothing more like Jesus than biblical bone-setting. And oh by the way, Paul says something very interesting. Paul said, When you see someone who is not in the spiritual condition they should be in, the way you respond to them will determine the spiritual condition you're in. 'Cause he said, those, you know who ought to be restoring these people? He said, those of you who are living by the spirit.

Those who live by the spirit, you are the ones who should restore. Literally it says, you who are spiritual. You know why Paul said that? Do you know what God wants for every unbeliever who's never come to God? He wants us to bring them to God. Do you know what God wants for every believer who's fallen away from God? He wants us to bring them back to God. And if you've got that in your heart, if you're got a fire in your heart to say, Lord, when I meet someone that needs to be reconciled, let me reconcile them to You. Lord, when I meet someone that needs to be restored, let me restore them to You. Then you can know, I am living by the spirit.

So Paul says when a believer is burdened, we are to gladly restore that brother. But then Paul just says something else that's so wise. He says, also we are to gently reclaim burdened believers. Now, listen to what Paul says. Here's a believer, fallen away from God, caught in a sin. We have a biblical term for that, it starts with a B. It's called backslidden. So Paul says, okay, you've got a believer here. They are backslidden. They have fallen away from God. Paul says, okay, not only are you to take your doctor's bag to his house, but he reminds us of something. And I don't know about you, the two things I always look for in a doctor. My personal physician's here this morning. He just walked in the door a while ago.

The two reasons why I love my doctor. Number one, we're the best of buds. The two reasons why I love my doctor. All right, number one, he's a good doctor. He knows what he's doing. Okay, so, and that's important, right? Okay, that's why I don't go to a mechanic when I'm sick. I want a guy that know what he's doing. He knows what he's doing. Number two, he's got a great bedside manner. He takes time, he treats, he doesn't treat me like a number. He treats me like, I'm really, and not just 'cause I'm his pastor. I'm his friend. That's the two things I want in a doctor. A, you know what you're doing. B, you have a great bedside manner. Paul says the same thing. He says, oh by the way, if you're gonna restore a broken brother or a broken sister, not just what you do is important but how you do it and the way you do it is important.

So he says this. He says, restore that person gently. So you know this. If you don't, let me clue you in. If you ever come up on someone and their leg is broken, I mean, the bone's stickin' out of the skin, right, or their arm is broken, don't do this. Hey, I can help you. Move. Don't do that. That's not what you do. What they need more than anything at that moment is a tender touch. And what Paul is saying is this. The last thing that a burdened believer needs that's under the burden of sin, they're living in sin, they've fallen away from God, the last thing they need is some highbrow, hypocritical, hypercritical Pharisee hosing him down with the acid of condemnation. Let me tell you something the church has been really good at and I've seen it happen too many times. We are great at shooting our wounded. We are really great at piling on when somebody is down.

And by the way, that's why so many people who fall into sin, who claim to be believers but they somehow get into this trap of alcoholism or addiction or adultery or fornication or bitterness or pornography, you know what happens the vast majority of the time? They don't come back to the church. You know why they don't come back to the church? Two reasons. Number one, they're ashamed and number two, they're afraid. They're ashamed of what they've done. They're ashamed of how they'd fallen and they're also afraid of how the church will respond. How will we look at them. Will we just talk about them? Will we just ignore them? And that's why you know what happens to a lot of these people? They don't go to the church when they got the problem. They go to the bar.

And you know why they go to the bar? 'Cause they know they'll find more love and sympathy at the bar than they do at the church. Paul says, we need to restore these people gently. So I want to say something to all of us beginning with me. I've had a problem all of my life. I guess I'll have it all of my life and frankly, I don't feel bad because you've got this problem as well and if you don't think you do, you've really got the problem. I have a tendency to always see the best in me and the worst in others. Have you ever noticed how we're quick to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt but not so quick to give somebody else the benefit of the doubt? Isn't that kind of interesting?

Now, should we, when we see a stick in someone's eye, pull it out? Absolutely. But Jesus was right. You make sure you don't have a log in your eye first. And that's why we need to restore burdened believers not just gently but humbly. You know why? 'Cause Paul goes on to say this. You talk about a great psychologist, Paul was a master psychologist. Here's what he said. But watch yourselves or you also may be tempted. And what would Paul mean by that? Here's what Paul was saying. If you are a spiritual person, if you're living by the Holy Spirit, if you're really walking with God, if you're really hitting on all eight cylinders with God, when you see a backslidden believer, here's what you'll say first. What you will say first and who you say it first to will be this.

The first thing you will say will not be to that backslidden, broken, burdened believer. The first thing you'll say is to yourself. Here's what you'll say. Except for the grace of God, I'd be there. Except for the grace of God, I would be the one that committed adultery. Except for the grace of God, I'd be the one that stole money from the business. Except for the grace of God, I'd be the one hooked on pornography. Except for the grace of God. 'Cause let me tell you why. Any sin a believer can fall into is a sin every believer can fall into. So let me just say to you this way. David, a man after God's own heart, committed adultery. Your pastor can commit adultery. David, a man after God's own heart, had her husband killed. I can have somebody killed. Any sin that a believer can fall into, every believer can fall into.

When you realize that the situation could be reversed, when you realize you could be the one lying flat on your back, then you'll approach that person with a spirit of humility and gentleness. So here's what Paul said. Paul said when you come up on somebody and they're broken, they're burdened, they've blown it, they messed up, they know they've messed up, you know they've messed up, you both know they've messed up, Paul said, if you're spiritual, you don't walk up to them with a pointed finger. You walk up to them with a helping hand. Brother, how can I restore you? How can I get you back on your feet? But then Paul says something else and this is so good. He doesn't leave any stone unturned. He then says thirdly, we are to graciously rebuild burdened believers.

Now let me tell you why this is so good. Paul actually does something you probably wouldn't notice if you were just reading this on your own. He actually shifts gears from verse 1 to verse 2. He actually goes from one kind of burden to another kind of burden. Listen to what he says in verse 2. He says, Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Now remember I told you at the beginning of the message there are two types of burdens that believers bear. Some believers bear the burden of sin and shame. Some believers bear the burden of sorrow and suffering. Well, Paul's already dealt with the first burden.

Here's a guy, walked into a tempting situation, didn't do what he should have done. He blew it, he fell flat on his face, he messed up. Paul's dealt with that. But then he said, you know, but there's another kind of burden that believers get under and in fact, they even have a big sign on their heart and it says "Help wanted". And that's not the burden of sin and shame. That is the burden of sorrow and suffering. And these are burdens that we all carry at some time in life. The burden of depression. The burden of discouragement. The burden of divorce. The burden of disease. The burden of a death of a loved one. And the assumption behind this verse is, you know what, we all have burdens in life. Nobody gets through life burden-free. We all get burdened. We all have to carry things. And God says, listen, I never intend for anybody to carry those burdens alone.

So some of you may listen to what I'm about to tell you. One of my dearest friends, been his pastor over 25 years, so you know who I'm talking about, is facing an unbelievably serious disease. He's literally in a battle for his life. I don't think I've ever met in all my years a kinder, sweeter more gentle man in my life. I've never met a man that was more willing to bear somebody's burdens. I've never met a man in my life that was more willing to help people than this man. But now he has a big burden. And his burden has brought him a big problem. Here's his burden. His burden is he's sick. He is seriously sick. He is in a battle for his life. But that's not his biggest problem. You know what his biggest problem is? Letting other people bear that burden with him.

When we first found out, and we've been super close. When we first found out about this disease, first day you know what he said to me? Now Pastor, I don't want to be a burden to you. I don't want to bother you. You got all these other people to care for. I'll be fine. Don't you worry about me. And I heard that over and over and over. And finally I went to his home and I sat down with him and I said, look brother, I love you and I'm not trying to be ugly or unkind when I say this, but I want you to hear something. I want you to hear this carefully. You are not a bother. You are my brother. You are not a bother. You are my brother. And I said, your biggest problem right now is not your sickness. Your biggest problem is your pride. I want you to hear this carefully. The first person we ought to always take our burdens are is to Jesus.

Okay, I want you to know, that's the default, right. Jesus is the best burden bearer there is in history. But did you know that one of the ways that God uses to bear our burdens is through bringing other believers into our life to help bear that burden? Why do you think God has given us the friends that we have? Why do you think God's given us the relationships that we have? Why do you think you're in this church? When my mom, toward the end of her life, about the last 18 months to two years, I never went to see my mom, never went to see my mom, she wouldn't say something like this. Now Son, I don't ever want to be a burden to you. I want to look after myself as long as I can but when I can no longer look after myself and I become a burden, I'd rather just die. She told me that all the time.

And there was a time I used to think, Mom, that's so noble. That is so sweet. That is so courageous. And then one day it hit me. But it's just wrong. So I'm gonna tell you something you've never heard a preacher say but I'm gonna tell you, it is so true from this passage. You ready for this? We are all custom-designed by our creator to be a burden to other people. We are all custom-designed to be a burden to other people. If you have a toddler at home, keep that in mind. All right, now listen. You were designed to be a burden to me. I was designed to be a burden to you. And one of the responsibilities of family members is to bear each other's burdens.

Listen, if you don't think that's true, why do you think Jesus came to Planet Earth? He came for one reason, to bear the burden of our sin. That's why He came. We had a burden we couldn't carry. Jesus said, I'll take it off your plate. And here's the good news. Because He bore the burden of our sin, we can enjoy the blessing of His salvation. And that ought to change the way we think about burdens. Now let me tell you why. When you are bearing burdens, you're really sharing blessings. When you're bearing burdens, you're really sharing blessings. No believer is ever a burden to another believer. And if you refuse to allow others to share your burden, you are robbing them of the blessing of sharing that burden and bearing that burden, because here's the truth.

Nobody's immune to burdens. None of us are immune to the burdens of suffering and sorrow 'cause one day it may be you that gets the pink slip. One day it may be you that gets the phone call at three o'clock in the morning from the police. One day it may be you that gets the bad report from the doctor. One day it may be you that's served with divorce papers. And when that happens, two things better be true. There'd better be believers that are holy enough to bear that burden with you but you better make sure you are humble enough to share that burden with that believer. It's a two-way street. Don't ever think this is a trivial matter.

You say, well, I hear what you're saying but I'm a proud guy. I'm a Marine, I'm a Navy SEAL, I'm this, I'm that. I'm a hunka hunka burnin' love. I got this by myself. Let me tell you something. Don't blow me off. I'm gonna tell you why. When somebody has a burden and we know they've got a burden and we don't step up and bear that burden, or if you're the one that's got the burden and you don't sit down and let somebody else share that burden, can I tell you what we both just did? We both broke the law. You say, what law? Paul said, Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

What is the law of Christ? To love one another. And when we see a burdened believer, doesn't matter whether they're burdened with sin and shame or they're burdened with sorrow and suffering, if we go like this, if we say, I'm not getting involved. I don't have the time. It's not my problem. It's too messy. Let somebody else do it. That's fine. Understand you just broke the law. You broke the law of Christ. You broke the law of love. If we keep our burden a secret, if we refuse to ask for help, if we just wallow in our sin, in our shame, or if we hide our sorrow and our suffering, we break the law of love.

So here's the point. So what am I so passionate? Pastor, what are you saying? I'm not so much concerned that we're the biggest church in this county or in this country or this state. I mean, I want numbers. I want to see this place packed. I'd love to see it filled. I'd love to see standing room only and that's our goal, that's our desire. A lot of people to be saved. But I can lay my head on my pillow at night if I know that anybody can walk into this building whether they're gay or straight, whether living a celibate life or they're sleeping with 15 women at the same time, where the dirtiest thing they read is a comic book or they're knee deep into pornography, I want people to walk into this church and know they'll find the tender loving care of a Savior who died for us.
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