FALLING ON THE FALLEN
Seated in the window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed”, he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again, and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted. Acts 20:9-12 NIV
I recently heard a sermon preached from this text, and it has remained on my mind for several days. As I listened to the message, I couldn’t help but draw some analogies between this story and the ministry of Where Grace Abounds. I have no doubt that Paul’s evening message was very important. He was getting ready to leave the Macedonians and was probably doing some teaching, preaching, exhorting and admonishing. For all he knew, this would be his last opportunity to speak to them. He was apparently making it count! He wasn’t about to be on his way without saying absolutely everything he had to say. And, it would appear, the people staying to listen validated his message.
However, during the course of the evening, a young man, Eutychus, lost interest in Paul’s message. Was he exhausted from a day’s work? Had he already heard everything his mind could absorb? Did he find the content of Paul’s communication boring? Or was he, like me, easily lulled to sleep by the speaker’s voice during a long meeting? Whatever the reason, he fell asleep while sitting in a third story window. Can’t you just picture him, eyelids heavy, his head drooping forward and snapping up again just when he felt himself beginning to lose his balance? I can only imagine that this process repeated itself several times as he drifted into slumber. I think it’s safe to surmise that he was unnoticed by the others who attended the meeting. He was sitting in the window, high above the courtyard below, with no bars, glass or screens to keep him propped up. Certainly the others would have taken preventative measures had they seen him dozing off. But Paul’s speaking had, for good reason, captivated them, and they were quite unaware of Eutychus’ precarious position.
At this point in the story, I have to stop and see how this applies to the WGA ministry and me. Frankly, when men and women who want a way out of homosexuality become involved with our program, I think we have lots to tell them. I, like Paul, could preach, teach exhort and admonish (actually, I’d badger a little too) until the wee hours of the morning. Although the opportunity has never presented itself, I’m sure I’d have no trouble filling the time if I had it — especially if there were thought provoking questions from my audience. After all, information is a good thing. It gives people a base from which to make wise, life-preserving decisions. There would be nothing inherently wrong with my message.
However, I must also acknowledge that there could be a Eutychus or two on the fringes of the congregation. I must also confess that I would probably be quite oblivious to those young men or women who had reached their limit. I don’t think I would be offended by their lack of alertness. I just don’t think I’d notice. Provided I had a captive audience, I would be concentrating on holding their interest and getting my message to the ears that were listening.
“Paul fell upon and embraced the one who had fallen!”
As Acts continues, Eutychus, who finally succumbs to Mr. Sandman, falls out the window and hits the floor below. Three stories down and…splat! What a tragedy! One would think that’s the end for the poor soul. But we are told that Paul falls upon Eutychus and embraces him, looking for any sign of life. Lo and behold, he finds that the young man is still alive!
I realize there was probably some sort of miracle here, but I don’t want us to miss the main point. It is this part of the story that I find most touching. Paul fell upon and embraced the one who had fallen! Do you grasp the emotion that fueled such an action? The horror at the fall of Eutychus was acute. I further believe that Paul had a reflex response that required little or no thought on his part. He impulsively placed himself over Eutychus. I am not at all convinced Paul knew he was alive when he threw his arms around him. However, I am absolutely sure of Paul’s compassion for the young man. He stopped mid-sentence and ran downstairs to care for his fallen brother.
Do you see where I’m going with this? I have been involved with “ex-gay” ministry for over eight years now and firmly believe we place too much emphasis on whether someone has a sexual fall, or walks the fine line of sobriety. Please don’t misunderstand, I do think it’s important to control one’s behavior, but it isn’t everything. Going back to our friend, Eutychus, I can just hear some of the comments which might have been made by those at the meeting: “Serves him right: if he’d been paying attention, he wouldn’t have fallen in the first place.” “What in the world was he doing sitting in the window? That was stupid.” “If he hadn’t been out so late the night before, he wouldn’t have been so tired.” I do realize this is conjecture, but with my experience with the Christian community (27 years of it!) it’s rather easy to imagine some folks saying similar things. In “ex-gay” ministry, I often hear the swift judgment pronounced against those who don’t pay attention and lose their balance. Of course there are those who willfully jump out the window, but that’s another issue altogether.
Whatever your reaction might be, I think mine would be annoyance. I’d be annoyed by the distraction, by the thud of the body hitting the ground and by the subsequent mess to clean up. But I believe my heart is making a shift, and I can make my point quite concise by simply saying, “Shut-up, get downstairs, throw yourself on your fallen brother or sister and look for signs of life!” Furthermore, there really isn’t much need for evaluation of how or when. Don’t stand there scratching your head and wondering if you should do anything.
As I reminisce about the five years of being part of the WGA staff, I think of many people who have been involved in our programs. Some of these folks have “done their time” at WGA and have moved on. Others have become discouraged, disillusioned, or otherwise dissatisfied, and have apparently dropped out. (I say, “apparently dropped out,” because I believe few decisions are permanent, and God has His way of persuading His people to rejoin the process.) Obviously, I have very little contact with the men and women who have graduated themselves or taken a hiatus from recovery. So when considering “falling on the fallen,” it is not these people of whom I speak.
The “fallen ones” about whom I write are a third category of people who weigh heavily on my heart. This group of people is comprised of those individuals who seem to be straddling the fence. They come to group meetings week after week and, from what they share, seem to make little progress in their sexual struggle. They are people whose lives appear to be filled with inconsistency and contradiction. For example, they may be regularly involved with a WGA support group one night and be at a gay bar the following night. In fact, some may even go home with someone from a bar on occasion. (I’m not stupid or naïve enough to think this doesn’t happen). These are the people who have anonymous sex on Saturday night and go to church and weep with conviction through the entire service the next morning. These are the contemporary Eutychuses among us. They hear the message and they believe it. Yet they become bored, tire easily and fall asleep, only to be jarred awake when they hit the pavement after falling out of their respective windows. These are the precious ones who struggle deeply with life and death decisions.
“It takes an incredible amount of time and energy to walk alongside someone who is on both sides of the road!”
At first glance, I am tempted to focus on the negative. To be perfectly honest, I become irritated with their ambivalence. It takes an incredible amount of time and energy to walk alongside someone who is on both sides of the road! Frankly, I think it would be easier to police people and confront them when they drop the ball. Shape up or ship out! I mean really, shouldn’t there be some penalty imposed if a WGA group member has a one-night-stand? It hardly seems fair that those who inappropriately exercise their free will have access to the same supportive environment as those who walk the narrow road. But if we all received what was fair, I wouldn’t be alive to write this article and you wouldn’t be around to read it! So forget about fair. The larger issue is that of finding God’s heart in the matter and identifying with Him concerning the fallenness of our brother or sister.
“For the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7b). From my youth, I have considered this Scripture when doing good deeds. For many of us, during our childhoods it was drilled into our heads and hearts that our attitude (heart) when doing good is far more important than the act itself. To perform good deeds from impure motives is prideful and God hates that. However, is it possible that the Lord looking on the heart also applies to sinful behaviors? Does God see beyond our present actions and recognize that the overall direction of our hearts is for Him? I believe He must! The Bible is full of examples. Consider David. For crying out loud, he had a man killed so he could have that man’s wife! It doesn’t get much more slimy than that, yet he was called a man after God’s own heart. And what about Rahab the harlot? What do you think she offered Joshua’s spies: cookies and milk? I have reason to believe Rahab hoped for a little business from the two men, but changed her mind when she found out who they were. My point is that God is not much concerned with what we do every single moment. He is long-suffering, patient, kind and merciful and cares about our hearts.
As a Christian, I am called to be an imitator of Jesus. I have to ask myself how He would be with the WGA group-members I mentioned earlier. Would He write them off? I don’t think so. In my human mind, I naturally evaluate the behaviors and performance of WGA’s participants. In general I don’t think this is a bad thing. However, I also realize my emphasis tends to be on the negative rather than the positive. Why am I so quick to recognize and highlight the decisions that lead to death when there is so much life? I believe that every time group members walk through the door of one of our support group meetings, they are choosing life! Every time men or women confess a sexual encounter about which they experience conflict, there’s a sign that their life is still in them. When WGA participants weep during a church service, I believe they are weeping tears that flow from the river of life springing from within them. You see, even though they make some choices I would not make, they also make lots of choices I would make. And for what it’s worth, there was a time in my healing process that I made wrong choices too. The grace of God and some of His people was available to me, and it was their kindness-not their punishment or abandonment-that led me to repentance.
So then, how do we fall on the fallen? First, I believe we are to fall headlong into their lives. This means we bleed for them, even though they may not know we are suffering. Sin surely does have its consequence, namely death, and there is nobody more aware of that than those of us who have escaped death’s claim on our lives. We bleed for them because they may not be fully aware of the consequences of their own sin. Falling headlong into someone else’s life means there’s a time to talk and a time to be quiet. There’s a time to speak the truth and a time to let the Truth speak for Himself, while we stand with them, shoulder to shoulder, and help them bear it. Conviction is a powerful force! Falling headlong into someone’s life means we get taken advantage of, neglected, abused, emotionally battered and taken for granted. What’s the good news? Well, it also means we get to see God do a transforming work in the lives of men and women! The investment we make pays off because their decisions for life will eventually produce fruit, fruit that takes on a great importance and eventually supersedes the desire to choose death!
“If they know I love them, I stand a much better chance of being heard than if they believe they have been dismissed.”
Second, I believe falling on the fallen means we actually touch them. Sometimes this touch is physical. We naturally touch what we love. A hand on the shoulder, or an embrace send a powerful message that people are acceptable and loved right where they are. At other times, touching them means we point out the life we see by affirming what we see that is good. Incidentally, this doesn’t mean we contrast what we see as good with what we see as bad. Most people are quite aware of their shortcomings and don’t need them underlined. What about being “soft on sin”? If we stay in relationship with people, they will know our position on sin and we won’t have to reiterate it. If they were a little slow to understand my position on sin, I would personally rather have my love mistaken for approval than have them confuse my disapproval with rejection. If they know I love them, I stand a much better chance of being heard than if they believe they have been dismissed.
Third, and most important, I believe we are to fall on our faces before the Father’s throne. We are to groan in agony as we stand in the gap for these struggling people. Yes, there is righteous and highly appropriate anger when Satan gets a foothold in the life of a brother or sister. I believe that anger is to be channeled into intercessory prayer on behalf of the fallen, for it is through the fervent prayer of the righteous that much is accomplished. It is as we labor in prayer that our ultimate goal is attained; we find God’s heart on the matter.
(Keith Hamilton, Pastor to Students at Arvada Covenant Church presented the message in which this writing finds its root. It has found its place in my heart largely because of the passion with which it was preached. Thank you, Keith.)