I was watching the Today show this morning and they did a story on the beleaguered Publishers Clearing House pitchman Ed McMahon. This isn’t the first story I’ve heard, or read about the troubled Johnny Carson sidekick. In fact I sort of rolled my eyes, and made some judgmental comment about how we should be more concerned about the poor, homeless, and hungry rather than some rich fat cat who blew millions of dollars during his career, and is now trying to hang on to his multi-million dollar mansion!
Then, like a ton of bricks I was reminded of the lavish life I’ve lead, and the many years the “locusts” ate while I was indulging in porn. I had to admit, and perhaps God wanted me to see that I am more like Ed McMahon than I would care to admit. Don’t get me wrong I’ve never made millions of dollars (that would be nice!). I’ve never been the sidekick of a late-night talk show host, and I’ve never greeted people at their homes with a check for millions of dollars. But my heavenly Father, “owns the cattle on a thousand hills”. I do represent the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I am commissioned to share the good news of the Gospel, and the spiritual wealth it brings to the “poor in spirit”. In my compromise with pornography both my representation, and my message become a bit muddled. It is true, I believe, that God is still able to work through us, but I believe we miss out on the life we were meant to live, fully alive, and carrying out the mission of the Kingdom.
The truth is, Ed and I have the same problem, and perhaps you do to. We’ve lived beyond our means, been short sighted (pornography really narrows your vision), and squandered the precious gift of life on something that only brings death and spiritual bankruptcy.
So how does Jesus respond to us when we show up broken, destitute, and on the verge of losing everything? He responds to us with lavish grace, mercy, and joy at the fact that we’ve come to the end of our own means, and recognize our need for His sustaining power, that isn’t found in the things of this world like pornography. He is overjoyed at the potential of us basking in the “joy of the Lord” rather than wallowing in the depravity of pornography.
In my book Breaking the Silence: A Pastor Goes Public about His Battle with Pornography, I share the story of how my wife and I received a gift from our church when I was serving as a pastor in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area in Texas. This is how the story is told in my book: “I love to tell how my wife and I received a wonderful gift. A member of our church turned in a check for $1,000 as a gift to my wife and me. I was completely blown away and wondered if this was some sort of mistake. Eventually the member came to me and said that God told him to give us the gift. I wondered if God could tell Him that every month! Since my wife and I have a date night every week, I decided not to tell her about the gift and planned a special surprise dinner at an elegant restaurant in Dallas. I knew exactly where I wanted to take her—a restaurant called The Mansion on Turtle Creek, a place where the rich and famous often hang out. At the time it was the only five-star restaurant and hotel in Dallas. I let her know that we would be going out and that she should dress up very nice because it was going to be special.
When the evening came, we headed toward the restaurant in a very upscale section of Dallas. As we pulled into the semi-circle driveway of the restaurant, we noticed expensive luxury cars parked all around. We were a little embarrassed to arrive in our family vehicle, a Plymouth Grand Voyager minivan with a missing hubcap! But the valets hurried to open the door for my wife and me, which was also a little embarrassing as French fries and chicken nuggets poured onto the driveway! We made our way into the restaurant and were seated at a quiet, intimate, table with hardly anyone else around. I could tell that my wife was a little shocked that we would be in such an expensive restaurant, especially since she manages the checkbook. So I finally let her in on the surprise. I told her we received a gift of a thousand dollars and that she could order anything on the menu she wanted.
That was all she needed to hear. We ordered our food and enjoyed a great time of connecting and sharing together. It was a magnificent dinner, and the food was exquisite. Had my wife not been there I would have been tempted to lick the plate! It was just that good.
Let me say that God has given us an enormous gift. The gift of life is not only eternal life but life now. Life isn’t meant to go to waste. It isn’t meant to be squandered with pornography or other sin. The gift of life is meant to be enjoyed to the full. Yet it’s easy to get pulled away, leaving that which is so good behind and settling for what Edward T. Welch calls “a banquet in the grave.” God’s gift to us was expensive—it cost Him His only Son. That’s why in Revelation 3:20, God says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” God calls us to the fullness of life through intimacy and connection with Him. You don’t want to leave one morsel on the plate!
That banquet is a banquet of grace. It is attended by those who have messed up royally, perhaps even blown millions of dollars, and decades of LIFE on things that promised much, but didn’t come through. It is for people who have spent years looking at pornography, and then come to their senses realizing that they’ve cheated family and friends out of relationships and love. It is a banquet for people like Ed McMahon and ME.