The antique oak dresser was at least 50 years old, but this piece of furniture was still as sturdy as the giant oak from which its timbers were hewn. And the price was right. I pulled out one of the drawers and admired the beautiful dovetail joints. Amazing workmanship! I imagined the weathered face of the dedicated craftsman who had put his heart and soul into this masterpiece. There was just one problem. Someone had painted it green!
This piece of poorly painted furniture became my first major restoration project. I spent many hours dissolving the multiple layers of paint and scraping the gooey mess into toxic puddles on my basement floor. My hands got dirty. Sometimes my eyes would sting. Many times my body would hurt—restoration is a messy and painful work. Was it worth it? Stop by my house and decide for yourself. That old oak dresser has been fully restored to its former beauty and is 30 years older than the day I purchased it.
So here is my question for you: Do you believe in restoration? To be more specific, are damaged Christian leaders salvageable? Should we take the time and effort to restore them? As I ask myself these questions, I immediately think of Simon Peter. He was a damaged Christian leader. Peter not only fell, he fell hard—cursing and denying that he even knew Jesus. From a shortsighted human perspective, Simon Peter’s ministry was over.
The risen Christ appeared to Peter before meeting with the rest of the disciples (1 Cor. 15:5). What did Jesus say to this fallen Christian leader in this private rendezvous? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but we do have a record of a meeting with Peter by the Sea of Galilee. Having spent another nonproductive night on the lake, Peter returned to shore only to find Jesus waiting for him. “ ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ ” (John 21:15).* Not many days before, Simon Peter had brashly boasted, “ ‘Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble’ ” (Matt. 26:33).
But now beside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus doesn’t remind Peter of his failure. Rather, He reminds him of his future: “ ‘Feed My lambs’ ” (John 21:15). Why would Jesus trust Peter with the care of His lambs? Hadn’t Peter already demonstrated his incompetence and unfaithfulness? Yes. But Jesus believed in restoration. Jesus believed in giving people second chances.
If you’re not sure about that, take a look at the way Jesus treated Saul of Tarsus. By his own confession, Saul was a ruthless opponent of all who believed in Jesus. “Many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities” (Acts 26:10, 11). Saul was damaged and dangerous, but Jesus saw his potential. “ ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’ ” (Acts 9:6). And to a skeptical Ananias, Jesus said of Saul, “ ‘He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel’ ” (v. 15).
No wonder a restored Simon Peter declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). The apostle Paul, once called Saul, also blessed the name of the Lord for His work of restoration. "By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain” (1Cor. 15:10).
David Solomon, the author of the lead article in this issue of Ministry, could give the same confession as that of Simon Peter or Saul of Tarsus. This fallen Christian leader has been restored to ministry by the grace of God, and that grace was not in vain. I was deeply moved by his testimony, and I am still reflecting on the implications for my own life and the lives of my colleagues in ministry. To conclude that restoration is always possible would be naive, but we must never forget that we serve a God who rescues and restores.
* Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the NKJV.