Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions
By Chris WittsThursday 19 Nov 2020Morning Devotions with Chris WittsDevotionsReading Time: 4 minutes
Jim Bakker was a very successful televangelist in the US who got caught up in a few scandals. He built an enormous theme park and ran PTL (Praise The Lord) television, and employed over 2,000 people.
But he was charged with fraud and sentenced to prison. He was publicly humiliated and thrown out of church ministry. He wrote a book about his experiences, I was Wrong. This was a huge scandal in the 1990s. His wife divorced him and he suffered a nervous breakdown.
He was the despised TV evangelist crook. His kids didn’t want to see him—he really was at rock-bottom. In September 1989, Jim Bakker went on trial for 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. The government accused him of milking his followers out of $158 million and of diverting $3.7 million for his own use.
He was eventually found guilty on all 24 counts and sentenced to 45 years in prison. He only served 5 years. He was locked away in solitary confinement for his own protection, the most hated man in the US. His job was to clean toilets. He was alone, broken and abandoned. He felt he brought a lot of disgrace to God’s Kingdom and hurt a lot of people.
An Unexpected Visit
One day the prison guard came to his cell and told him he had a visitor. He assumed it would be his lawyer, the only person who ever paid him a visit. As he walked into the visitation room, what he saw took his breath away. Sitting there, waiting for him, was Billy Graham. Jim was speechless and ashamed. He felt dirty to be standing in front of such a holy and good man.
In his book, Jim Bakker said: “I wanted him to run away from me. The cleanest, finest evangelist America has ever seen was spoiling his reputation on the likes of me.” But Billy simply broke the silence and said: “I’ve come to see how you’re doing, Jim. Ruth and I are praying for you every day and we wondered if, when you get out of here, you’d like to come for dinner”. Billy Graham talked to him as if he was a normal man. He saw him as a human being.
I think it’s a wonderful story of restoration and forgiveness. And a lot of humility when Billy Graham, who wasn’t worried about his reputation, reached out in brotherly love to a fallen man. The fact is that we are each a fallen person—born in sin and needing a new life offered in Jesus Christ.
When It’s Too Easy to Judge—Don’t
It’s very easy to judge someone like Jim Bakker who obviously did the wrong thing. But it seems to me he repented and changed his ways. He had fallen from grace as they say. But there is always a way back—Jesus died on the cross for my sins and wrongdoing, just as he did for yours. The apostle Paul called himself the ‘chief of sinners’.
Paul wrote to young Timothy, his fellow worker and said:
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This saying is true. I was the worst sinner of all! But since I was worse than anyone else, God had mercy on me and let me be an example of the endless patience of Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 – CEV).
Brought up in a religious world, Paul, once known as Saul, persecuted the Christians which often led to their imprisonment and death. When Stephen was murdered he stood by, giving his approval. Christians were fearful of him—and yet his dramatic conversion on the Damascus road changed the course of religious history .
Repentance And Recovery
In a recent interview, Jim Bakker said:
I’m glad it all happened. Now I can go anywhere and be with anybody in the whole world, and there are no raised eyebrows. I can go into any bar—any social circle of outcasts—and nobody tells me that I ought to be careful because ’people will talk’ and that I will ’hurt my reputation.’ People have already talked, and I don’t have any reputation to hurt. It doesn’t matter anymore. I’m free!
It is an amazing story. No-one’s perfect. Jim Bakker learned the hard way he had to repent and confess his wrongdoing to God and the people he hurt. And that’s very difficult.
To repent means to change one’s attitude and behaviour. Repentance is a mental decision that produces an act of the will resulting in a change of action. No-one ever truly repented and then went right on deliberately sinning. We may fail again. When we do, we must repent again. As long as we continue to justify our sin we will never correct it. Those who refuse to repent will persist in their sin.
Repentance involves honesty. We must face ourselves as we really are and do something about it. Identify wrong attitudes and actions that are eating you up with guilt. You will never be free from your guilt until you face your sin and do something about it. Jim Bakker faced 5 years in jail thinking a lot about his failure.