The TMZ Attitude of the Church

You’re a Christian. You just got caught embezzling money. You got caught cheating on your spouse. You got caught lying to a large group of people about your true nature. Everyone just found out that you’re an alcoholic.

Worst part? You’re a member of a large church. Everyone knows you and respects you. Past tense: Respected you.

Now, your sin is out there for everyone to see.

Your sin gets exposed in several different ways. You may come forward with it on your own. You confess to your spouse, your church and to your friends, hoping for a restoration to a Christian walk. That doesn’t happen very often. When it does, sometimes it turns out well.

Maybe you get caught. When you get caught, it might make front page news. Maybe you get arrested. Maybe the phone lines burn up with words like, “Can you believe _________ did ___________? Unbelievable!”

What you will learn quickly is who your friends are.

The Christian community is called to restore those who fall. Galatians 6:1 cannot be any clearer:  Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Unfortunately, in many churches in our world, the idea of restoration has been mixed with a TMZ idea of scandal and soap opera drama. Instead of rushing to the sinner’s side, many parishoners sit on their hands and wait to see what will happen next. When the faintest wafting of gossip comes their way, the prayer chain is jammed with misinformation.

Members don’t bring covered dishes, they stand back with disdain and judgment.

Why does this type of attitude remain in our churches? I’ve written about it in my book, but it has to be said over and over again if we are to attempt to restore the sinners in our midst. If they aren’t worth saving, who is?

Many people look down on a sinner because it gives them a chance to say, “I’m better than they are.” It’s like we can all line ourselves up from most devious to most righteous. But that doesn’t work in God’s economy. The justification of Christ means that all Christians stand holy before God. When any of us commit a sin, we are forgiven. He still holds us fast in His hand and forgives us when we ask.

Many look down on us because they see how close they are to the same sin. Our own sin exposes their sinful hearts. We are each capable of the most heinous sins if we do not stand guard and give ourselves to the Spirit.

When a member falls, when a member sins, make haste to their side. Even if they don’t answer right away. Even if they distance themselves from you. Even if they don’t return your calls or texts. Approach them in love, not judgment. Let them know you love them. Treat them like the person they were before. They need to know they are loved. God is the one who will work on their hearts. Trust God to do His work and you stand by and walk with them.

And as my mother used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Please Check This Out

Over my time in the past two and a half years, I have met some extraordinary people. One of them is John Wilbanks.

He has set up a blog to help others. He has a heart to help the fallen pastor and is working with me to help those who have fallen across the country. Please take a moment to visit him, his blog, and give him some encouragement.

It’s at Real Talk Ministries. He’s got a heart for God, for people and for those who need help.

Cutting the Old Testament Israelites a Break

I grew up Southern Baptist. Please don’t judge me too harshly.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the story. About the Israelites wandering through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. It was a trip that should have taken a couple of months. But because  of their whining, disobedience and poor attitude, God let them wander for a whole generation until they reached their final destination.

Heck, even Moses messed up one time (actually a few times) and wasn’t able to enter the promised land. Right before he died he could only view it from the heights of Mt. Pisgah and grieve over the sin that kept him out.

Now, let me tell you how the Israelites’ sin is usually discussed in Southern Baptist Sunday schools:

“These people were being led by God. Yet every day they found something new to complain about. They had God sent manna from heaven, God leading the way, solid leadership and had been set free from the slavery of Egypt. Yet, they somehow found a way to complain about something.”

Of course, after years of this indoctrination, you begin to think two things. First, you think, “Silly Israelites. How could they ever complain? They have God. What a bunch of whiners!”

That charge is burned into you for a long time as a Southern Baptist. It sure is easy to think that when you’re 12, sitting in Sunday School while eating a donut and wearing a clip on tie. It’s always easier to judge people when you have 20/20 hindsight and are reading the story of people who have already experienced the pain.

The second thing you think is this: “If that had been me, I would have been a faithful follower of God. I would’ve followed that pillar of fire to the ends of the earth and never complained.”

Yeah, right. Think about it for a moment. Thousands of people pilgrimaging out of the land they grew up in, some of the elderly, some pregnant, all of them just witnessing the plagues of Egypt first hand, not sure where they’re going, some dying along the way, no shower stalls available, hot sun during the day, cold nights, etc.

I had a stern revelation the other day that slapped my Sunday School righteousness out of me. I’ve mentioned my hobby before – geocaching. It’s like a world wide treasure hunt. You use a GPS enabled device to find little containers people have hidden. Some are really easy to find and some are more challenging. Chances are there are some near your house. The iPhone has a geocaching app for beginners if you’re interested. Some have little toys for the kids to find in them and they have a log to sign in them to show you’ve been there. It’s free and it’s a lot of fun.

One of the joys of geocaching is to be the first to find a cache someone has hidden. I hadn’t been the first to find yet and I saw a new cache had been published at the Land Between the Lakes National Park near our home. Did I say near? I thought it was near. On the drive there, I remembered it was about an hour and a half. But that’s okay. It was about finding the cache first.

When I finally arrived at LBL, I found a place to park on a side road and realized the geocache was a mile hike into the woods. Now, a disclaimer. I am a rabid indoorsman. I really don’t like going outdoors a lot. Mowing the lawn isn’t my thing. But I figured I’d find a trail and walk right up to it. In reality, there was a game trail. For those who don’t know, a game trail is a trail that five people walk down a year and deer use regularly. I was able to follow it pretty well.

In about an hour, I found the cache and signed the log. That was after sliding down a ravine, taking six breaks and being thankful I had brought a bottled water with me. That was on the way in.

On the way out, I spilled my water. I found the trail, I thought, and started walking. In circles. For a while. Down a ravine (not the same one I had gone down on the way in). I went up a steep hill (very steep). Stopped 20 times to rest. Three hours later, I had to admit I was lost. On my last rest, I looked down and saw a deer tick on my shoe. I’ve never had a deer tick on me. I complained. Loudly.

I then realized I had been complaining out loud for the past three hours. I’m sure nature was getting tired of my loud complaining. I was probably killing trees with my whining.

Then it hit me. I had only been in the stinking woods for four hours and I was already a rampant whiner/complainer. My mind settled on the Israelites and how I had become so judgmental toward them while I was in Sunday School. They had a right to complain, I thought. Darnit, if I had been there, wandering through the desert, I would have been the worst of them:

“Moses, are we there yet? When are we stopping for water? Did you see the size of that snake? Does anyone have a camel I can ride?”

I did eventually find my way out as my complaining turned to severe prayers for help. I was covered in sweat, exhausted and weak. When I got home, we pulled thirty deer ticks off me. They were crawling inside my shirt and shoes. It was lovely.

But at that point, I decided not to complain. I knew a whole bunch of people who had been through worse. And I had a new found admiration for them.

The Sins of Bobby Petrino

In the past week or so, we’ve been hearing about the soap opera that has been unfolding around the Arkansas Razorback football program in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Long story short, head coach Bobby Petrino was taking a motorcycle ride and had a wreck. When he had a press conference, he said he was alone at the time. With an investigation, it turned out that he was with a young woman he had been having a relationship with for quite some time who was not his wife.

That’s not enough to fire a head coach. What made it worse was that Coach Petrino hired this young lady to be part of the football program over about 150 other candidates and gave her a $20,000 dollar advance. He lied to his athletic director, he lied to the media and he lied to his family.

This week, the University of Arkansas fired Bobby Petrino. There were a few moments where it looked like they might retain him. In the past two seasons, he has brought the Razorback program back to prominence. Two seasons ago, they were in a BCS bowl game. Last year, they finished ranked in the top five.

I’m a die hard Razorback fan. I was born and raised in Russellville, Arkansas and I consider it to be my home. Truth be known, I might even have a Razorback tattoo. Maybe.

When Bobby Petrino stepped onto the scene, it gave me hope for the future of Razorback football. It also gave hope to Razorback nation. Yeah, he’s got ego, he’s got charisma. He rubs people the wrong way. But he’s a winner. I love the man. He gets results and has turned the program around from what the previous coach had done.

Last night, I got the news that he had been fired. My heart sank. I came home and talked to my wife, Allison about it. I was devastated.

I said, “They fired Bobby. I’m disappointed.”

She said, “Why? Did they fire him just because he committed adultery?”

I said, “No, the athletic director made it clear in the press conference that if he had just committed adultery, he could have kept his job. But he lied and hired the woman he was seeing. He put the university in a bad spot. It could cause lawsuits.”

She said, “How do you feel about that?”

I thought for a moment and said, “I’m disappointed. I love that guy. He was what the Razorbacks needed. I put my faith and hope into him and the program he was building. And with one action, he took it all away.”

At that moment, I saw the irony in what I was saying. But Allison called me out on it too.

She said, “Do you see the irony in what you just said?”

I said, “Yeah, I do. I fell from the ministry because I committed adultery. I disappointed a lot of people when I fell. I hurt a lot of people who had put their faith in me. People who had placed high expectations in me and suddenly it was gone. I mean, I’m hurt over a football coach. But people who lose a pastor are hurt even more.”

I have often said that the job of pastor can be compared to two other professions – coaches and politicians. When Congressman Anthony Weiner fell a while back, I blogged about it. It was the most page views I’ve ever had in a day. He was a man who fell into temptation. Same with Bobby Petrino. A man with high expectations who for whatever reason, fell into temptation.

Pastors, politicians and coaches have a lot of similar characteristics. For one, they serve people without getting much in return. They give and give and give of themselves without receiving much positive feedback. Secondly, they often only hear the negative remarks from people. They are bombarded with complaints and anger from people without hearing the positive.

Coaches know what I’m talking about. They run practice all week. Parents aren’t there to see the hard work that is done there to prepare for gameday. But when gameday rolls around, everyone shows up, buys a ticket and complains about what went wrong. And everyone thinks they could do a better job. Same for a politician. We don’t see what politicians do for our good in their offices all week. The phone calls they make and the people they interact with. We only tend to get on them for what they don’t do. Same for pastors. The pastor spends all week preparing three messages, visiting the sick, making phone calls, praying and shepherding the flock. But when he makes one mistake on gameday (Sunday), it’s all about that mistake.

As a fallen pastor, I hope things turn out okay for Bobby Petrino. He’s got a lot of great characteristics about him. There’s a reason fan bases fall in love with him. I wish he was my grandfather. I won’t forget the eulogy he gave for fallen Razorback tight end, Garrett Uekman. He was in tears. They were real. And he cared.

At the same time, I identify with Bobby Petrino. Heck, I wrote a book about it. His problem began with pride, I assume. Then it worked into a relationship with a woman other than his wife. We don’t know why he started that relationship. In my book, I listed several reasons pastors seek out such a relationship. Men become isolated, they have bad relationships at home, and they have conflicts. I don’t know if those things are true for Coach Petrino, but I hope the best for him. I want him to heal and find solace.

What we learn from Coach Petrino is what I learned. When we seek after a relationship or a sin, there will be consequences. Even if we decide to stay in that relationship, if that is what we really want, there will be consequences. For a lifetime. Coach Petrino’s downfall began when he sought after a relationship with a woman who wasn’t his wife. Hey, that’s his business. He’s not a pastor. He’s a coach. If he was a pastor, he would have been fired immediately. But coaches and politicians are held to a different moral standard. The problem came when he decided to step outside the lines and make hiring practices based on his personal life.

There seem to be several sentiments coming out of Razorback Nation. Some are happy to see him go. Some are sad to see him go because he was a winner. Many are disillusioned and hurt. Some are just worried about the football program. Some are happy because they have said he was a crook from the beginning.

During his tenure, those who didn’t really care for him were rooting for him to succeed because the team was winning. Winning solves everything. We tend to overlook faults when things are going well. Sounds like a pastor. There are those who don’t like the pastor – but when the money is rolling in and people are being baptized, they can act happy. But now that Coach Petrino has fallen, will people be human toward him? When the stands were filled with thousands in support of him, where will they be now? He messed up horribly. I expect that 50% of those in attendance were Baptist. Will they reach out or will they turn a blind eye?

All I know to say is this – he’s a human. He’s full of fault like the rest of us. We all make mistakes. Guess what? His mistakes got shown on a national scale because he was an amazing coach with a lot of attention. But in the end, his sins will be measured the same as any of ours. If any of us think we are better than him, we are wrong. All of us are messed up and seconds away from a fall.

Pray for Bobby and his family. Know that all of us are frail, sick, weak, and close to a fall. By the grace of God, we may not. Be compassionate toward those who do fall. Regardless of how it may hurt.

Post-Good Friday Traumatic Stress

Just had a new article go up at Provoketive Magazine. It’s called, “Post-Good Friday Traumatic Stress.”

It deals with living crucifixion scenes, the horror of Good Friday, and what it all means.

Here’s an excerpt: I hate to say that [living crucifixion scenes] “offend” me. Everyone is offended these days. It takes so little to offend the modern mind. So, I’m not offended. I just run afoul of the fact that churches think that the gospel is being spread by putting middle-aged men on a cross so people can see them on there. In a world filled with suffering, what good does it do to see a picture of more suffering without explanation? People drive by without any idea why the Christ suffered.

Take a moment to check it out if you can. And I should have a new blog post up here tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

“When He Came To His Senses”

When a pastor falls from ministry, he goes through a series of stages after his infidelity is discovered. I outline those stages in my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.”

In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the son runs off in search of a better life, but finds himself sleeping amongst tomorrow’s BLT fodder. He begins to remember how good his father was to him and the bible says, “when he came to his senses.”

When a pastor sins so greatly, it seems he’s lost his ever-loving mind. There is no excuse for violating God’s law. There are always reasons that the pastor started on that path to begin with. In my book, I talk about conflict, isolation and poor marital relations that are found in the majority of men who fall.

Again, no excuse. But know that one of the first stages a pastor goes through after a fall is anger and isolation. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone. One day, though, whether he reconciles with his wife or not, he will find his heart crying out to God. And he’s going to need Christian people. People who haven’t given up on him.

When the pastor falls, most people give up on him. That’s understandable because his actions hurt a lot of people. But it’s reasonable to expect that someone will reach out in the beginning. I’m not talking about reaching out once. Someone needs to reach out over and over again. He may not listen right away. He may even react harshly and tell you to shut up. But don’t stop.

Because there will come a day when he “comes to his senses.” And he will remember who reached out. He’ll remember the person who texted, called, emailed and said, “I just want to listen. I just want to be here for you. Not to judge, but to be your friend.”

Reach through the pain, the hurt, the disappointment and try it. Be ready to listen and love. Love like you would want to be loved if you were in that situation.

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