My Horrible, Pastoral Understanding of Grace

I’ve had some good things happening to me lately. Let me be clear, I understand that it is all the grace of God. It has been a very humbling experience.

But I’ve had some guilt associated with it. I’ve thought, “I don’t deserve good things to happen to me. I committed adultery. I should be laying in a ditch somewhere. Better, I should be sweeping up after the pigs and eating their food. I don’t deserve anything good from God.

I had a pastor friend tell me a while back, “Ray, I know it’s sinful for me to say this, but I don’t think you deserve anything good to happen to you. I mean, I’m glad you get along with your ex-wife really well, that your kids are doing great, but the sinful part of me feels you should be failing because of your sin. I know that’s wrong.

I said, “I feel that way most days.

Here’s the axiom that creeps up in my mind – because I committed adultery, I don’t deserve success. In fact, I deserve utter failure.

But then, I pray and come to my senses. I know that the grace that I’ve been shown is a gift. I don’t receive “success” because I committed adultery. I wouldn’t even call it success. It’s grace God bestows so I can help other people. To pour myself out in humility. To let my weakness be his strength.

Now for the worst part. When I was a pastor and something good would happen to me, I’d think in my dark soul, “Of course I deserve this! I’m a pastor! I preach, take care of people, listen to complaining, and I’m doing the work of God. Heck yeah, I deserve something good to happen to me.” It wasn’t all the time, but I thought that way more than once.

Now, after my fall, when God extends His grace to me, I see it for what it is – a loving gift. Something I don’t deserve. That’s what it was all along, I just didn’t see it before. I didn’t fully understand grace as a pastor. But after falling into the pit, after having God rescue me from that place, I see His grace better now.

Thank you, Lord, for redeeming me from my sin, from myself, from a terrible understanding of your grace. Thank you for loving me despite my sin. Thank you for your gift of eternal love. Most of all, thank you for sending your Son to stand there, in my place, to love me like I’ve never been loved.

What I Wish I’d Learned From Hershael York

(Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about several reasons why the book “Fallen Pastor” is for anyone concerned about the future of the church. We are in the midst of a crisis and need to understand how to approach it).

Listen to me. When I graduated from THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in December of 2000, I thought I was the bomb. Master of Divinity at my side, I saw great things – in my mind.

I don’t think that made me too different than many other seminary graduates. Well, at least the prideful ones. In my mind, I was going to bag a smaller church, move to a medium sized church, then WHAMMO! I was going to be sitting pretty at a megachurch one day. Heck. I deserved it. I had a seminary degree. In the middle of all those church exchanges, I was going to earn my Doctor of Ministry (so everyone would have to call me “Doctor Ray”, of course) and I would be sitting pretty.

If you read my blog, you know what happened to me in 2009. I committed adultery. Pastoral ministry was a thing of the past. It was long gone. My relationship with my first wife was over and irreconcilable. I married Allison and we moved on. I started anonymously blogging after that and wrote a book about what happened and how future pastors could avoid the temptation of moral failure.

I interviewed a lot of fallen pastors. Their stories broke my heart because they sounded identical to mine – and I’ll blog about that later.

But I also interviewed a lot of experts. One in particular was Hershael York. His official title is the Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the Associate Dean of Ministry and Proclamation.

I interviewed him for my book. But before I get to that, let me tell you what I thought about him when I was at seminary.

I was scared to death of him. I heard horror stories. “If you want an easy ‘A’, don’t take Dr. York. Seriously. He will tear you up and spit you out.” Then I would hear this: “But if you want to become the best preacher possible, take him as many times as you can. He will make you into an honorable preacher and a man of God.”

I heard one apocryphal story (apocryphal meaning, ‘If it isn’t true, it should be’) that a student went up to him and said, “I want you to grade me as hard as you can on my sermon.” He agreed. After the student minister was done, Dr. York gave him the heavy hand on everything he had done wrong, but said, “You have a great heart and a ton of potential. You will do well.”

That scared me. I stayed far away from Dr. York while in seminary. I got ‘A’s’ while in seminary in my preaching classes. But I’ll tell you this – all of my friends who took him for preaching have become phenomenal ministers of the gospel. They took him and his loving criticism and became better men for it. Thank God for men like Hershael York.

It wasn’t until over a year ago that I even talked to him. I was a miserable fallen pastor looking for help with my book. I heard that he had a heart for fallen pastors. At that time, I had perceived him to be some seminary professor living in an ivory tower, ready to destroy anyone who was full of sin. But I was terribly, terribly wrong. My first instinct came when I got his voicemail. It said, “You know who it is, you know what to do.” BEEEEEEEEEP. I let my daughter, who was 12 at the time listen to that. She loved it so much it’s her voicemail to this day.

When I interviewed him about fallen pastors and what they go through, I found a man who was so loving, so caring, and yet so passionate, I found myself being counseled by his words. While I was talking to him, I suddenly wished I had taken him for every class possible while I was at Southern.

He listened to my story of my failure, hurt for me and asked me questions. Then he was very honest with me. Scripturally honest with me. It was more than an interview. It was him helping me in my process. One of the first things he said to me was this about pastors who fall:

“It’s like a diamond being cut and polished. I saw this happen once in Tel Aviv. I asked the man cutting the diamond, ‘What happens if you make a misktake? What happens if you cut too deep?’ The cutter said, ‘Well, then I have to go and cut every other side exactly like that to match.’ So I said, ‘If you miscut you’ve diminished the value of it.’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ I think of it like that. A man who has fallen, there’s no question he’s diminished something. He’s still a diamond and of great worth, but he’s not what he could have been had he not fallen.”

He was one of the first people who heard through my anger, my problems and spoke directly to me. He read my book and I don’t think he agreed with all I had to say, but he let me quote him anyway. But one quote he gave me is one that I keep close to my heart every day. He said this: If a fallen pastor is going to make it in this world, “his repentance has to be more notorious than his sin.”

We talked about pastors who are looking for comfort beyond their spouses. Men who break and find a woman who is meeting their needs. He brought it down to very simple terms for me:

“Every time you have an affair with anybody, I don’t care who you are, in a sense, you’re having an affair with a fantasy and not a real person. Because the person you’ve got to pay the mortgage with, deal with the kids’ soccer schedule with, the one whose vomit you wipe up when they’re sick, that’s the real person you live with. Twenty minutes in the sack on a Tuesday afternoon is really not love. You’ve got to tell yourself that. You’ve got to awaken yourself to the fact that it’s fantasy. If you end up with the person you had an affair with, I guarantee you once you get married you have to face the same issues and same struggles. You cannot take two totally depraved human beings, stick them in the same house and not have friction.”

Finally, I asked him, “When does a church give up on a pastor? How long do they wait for him to be repentant? How long do they walk with him?” This question had haunted me for a long time and Dr. York gave me a very down to earth answer:

“A church’s posture has to be guided by whether or not there is repentance, because your posture has to be one thing if a person is living in defiance and embracing their sin. Then you have to confront. 1 Corinthians 5 kicks in and Paul describes as turning them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. There’s nothing pretty about that. But if a person is broken and repentant over their sin, even if they want to be and they’re not there yet, but they want to be. They may say, ‘It’s hard for me to leave this 23 year old girl who thinks I hung the moon and go back to a wife I struggled with for the past 20 years, but I want to do that because it honors the Lord.’ Well, if a guy says that, then by all means, you’ve got to walk that walk with him, or see that someone does. Because sometimes the unity of the church matters too and the leaders in the church have to take care of the church but what they cannot do is just abandon the one in sin and say, ‘Well, you’re on your own.’”

I love Dr. York. He’s been at the forefront of a lot of political issues in the Bluegrass state and hasn’t backed down. He is a man of great character and loves his wife deeply. He knows what is at stake for pastors and lets the men he teaches at seminary know the dangers. I am proud of him and that Southern has such a great man there to help them.

I was intrigued recently by a Twitter/Facebook interaction he had regarding the removal of Joe Paterno’s statue at Penn State.

His first post said this: The removal of the Paterno statue is brutal evidence of the limitations of human judgment. “All of our heroes are flawed–except One.”

Of course, he got some flak from people who didn’t understand the point he was trying to make. Then he posted this: “Will they be taking Michelangelo’s David down now?” The idea is that since David committed adultery and killed Bathsheba’s husband, should we take down Michelangelo’s David? Excellent point. But he still got grief.

Then, the most beautiful post of the day, which I referenced in a recent post of mine: “To clarify my previous tweets, I fully support the removal of the Paterno statue. My point is that the people we idolize are all fallen.

When I interviewed him, that was the underlying idea. We are all fallen. Every one of us. Every one of us is moments away from a fall. But that’s why we all need to be surrounded by accountability, strong wives, and an understanding of the fear of God.

In fact, he told me at one point – and I don’t have the exact quote – that if he fell from the ministry, he would have nothing. He’d be delivering pizzas. He has an amazing fear of God, something that is strangely missing from this society and from many of our pastors. It was missing from me.

When we lack the fear of God, we will no longer fear man. Or our sin. Or ourselves. That’s what Dr. York taught me. I wish I had learned it from him sooner. I wish I hadn’t been afraid to take his classes when I was a student at Southern.

_______________________________

All quotes from Dr. York were taken from his Facebook page or from “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World” by Ray Carroll. This post was approved by Dr. York before it was published and I am indebted to him for that.

Is Repentance Possible For A Fallen Pastor?

This is a tough issue to approach, because a lot of people are going to disagree with it. So, let me start with the easy stuff.

When a pastor falls from the ministry, due to adultery, embezzlement, alcoholism, or whatever, the immediate desired response is that he repent on the spot. Repentance, as we know it, is a turning away from his sin and moving back toward God. If he has left his wife or committed adultery, he needs to cut off all contact with the woman he is with and try to reconcile with his wife and family.

To do this, he needs the help of his church, counselors, and spiritual people who are willing to walk with him in restoration for a long time. It will be a difficult process. It will be a long process. In the beginning, he may not want to come back, but if he shows repentance, along with the support of the church, he may come back.

Even if he does, he will always have the albatross of sin tied around his neck for the rest of his life. I do know of many pastors who restored with their wives who reentered into ministry under the care of gracious churches.

That’s the easy one. Then we have the pastors, who I have written about extensively in my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” who for whatever reason, decided not to turn from their sin. In my book, I talk about the stages the pastor goes through in the early days of his fall. He is angry over a lot of things, he feels rejected, he knows he has sinned, yet he is looking to justify his sin.

Few reach out to him and often, the only friend he has is the woman he has chosen to be with. These aren’t excuses for an unrepentant attitude, they are the reality in which he lives.

Which brings me to a most important point – his issues didn’t start overnight. He didn’t wake up one day and decide to commit adultery. His temptation was preceded by years of issues, conflict, marriage issues and ultimately, temptation. The confusion he now finds himself in are a result of his own sin and he has to face the consequences.

He may reach out to his wife at some point to discuss reconciliation to find it isn’t possible. He may not wait long enough for the anger to reside. He may just be stagnant in his sin and keep pushing on. He may just want to be with this new woman. Regardless, he has made his choice, leaving many people behind hurt and disillusioned.

Someday, though, the light goes on. It probably goes on after he’s remarried or after reconciliation with his wife has long passed. His heart begins to turn to God and He realizes he has sinned greatly, but there is little he can do about his sin.

He knows he can write letters of apology, call the church deacons, apologize to his former wife, family, but he cannot undo the past. He turns to God for forgiveness and God forgives. He always does.

King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, then to hide his sin, he had her husband murdered. There’s no reconciliation to be had there with anyone. But after his sin was discovered, he poured out his heart to God for forgiveness. But where’s the repentance? He can’t undo the adultery and murder. God wanted a repentant heart in David. And David was broken when he wrote Psalm 56 and I believe he turned his heart to God.

There are many that believe that a fallen pastor who did not reconcile with his wife can never be truly repentant. They make a good point. Their point is that unless you go back to your wife and family, you are not repentant. You are still a sinner and out of the will of God.

I’ve posed this question to a lot of counselors and seminary professors and people with a much higher pay grade than me. Why? Not so I could justify myself. But because I want to be right with God. After my divorce, reconciliation was not to be had, I remarried and went on. I spent a  lot of time in anger and bitterness.

Then, I had my moment with God. My moment where I asked if I could be truly repentant. I was reminded of the woman caught in adultery. He told her to “Go and sin no more.” I was reminded of the tax collectors who came to Christ and the result of their life was to stop living in a way that was dishonoring to God. The thief on the cross was granted entrance into heaven based on his belief. Paul, on the road to Damascus, was transformed by Christ and his life took a turn completely God-ward.

None of these people could do anything about their past at that point. It was what it was. The tax collector refunded the people’s money. Some could go and apologize to those they had harmed. But Christ desired a heart change. He wanted them to “go and sin no more.” He wanted the sin they had committed that led them there to stop.

Quote me how divorce is adultery and remarriage is adultery. I understand. I understand the sins committed in those days were done out of my own selfishness, due to the circumstances around me, due to my own desire to sin. All my sin. But I also know I was forgiven.

And if I quote Hershael York once, I’ll quote him a thousand times. He said to me, “You have to make your repentance more notorious than your sin.” He wasn’t excusing what I had done, but recognizing that I had sinned. But now that I had, I had to live a life of holiness, a life pleasing to God.

Unfortunately, for the fallen pastor, for many, he will always be seen as the man with the Scarlet Letter emblazoned upon him. Not worthy of forgiveness or trust. Hated by many, scorned by his former pastor friends, and not worthy of any service to God. I know better. There is hope. God is never done with His servants who turn their hearts toward Him. God has forgotten your sin if you repent and turn away from former things. Even if others bring it up, God has cast it as far as the east is from the west.

If you’re a fallen pastor and are reading this, regardless of what stage you are in, there is hope for repentance. Deep down, you know what to do. Turn to God, seek Him and He will answer.

God Still Loves The Fallen Pastor

You ever have a conversation/prayer with God that you just know was real?

I have. But only a few times. My friend, Joy Wilson, writes about this type of prayer in her book, “Uncensored Prayer: The Spiritual Practice of Wrestling with God.” Take time to check out her blog as well. I think if you give her a try you’ll love her stuff.

I was apparently engaged in this process without even knowing it. My mother used to do it as well. She kept detailed prayer journals. She wrote down conversations she had with God. The first time I took a peek at one of them, I was sure she was crazy. But after I kept going back to them secretly, I knew she was conversing with God. I didn’t know how. I knew it wasn’t divine revelation, but I knew she was wrestling and hearing from God in her mediation/quiet time.

About a year after my fall from ministry and my marriage to Allison, I had a conversation with God that I will never forget. It wasn’t in audible tones. It was on a heart level. It was while I was on my knees with my Bible in front of me. I had few friends to speak of and little support. All I wanted was love. To be reminded of God’s love. To remember that He was, in fact, there. I’ll do my best to quote it for you. It was at a heart level, and it was very real.

Ray: “Lord, I’ve hurt so many. I’ve gone through so much because of what I’ve done. I have some opportunities to help people, but I feel inadequate. I just need to hear from you.”

Silence.

Ray: “I’m an inadequate husband, father, Christian, worker, human being, and I fell as a minister. I am a horrible sinner. I’ve asked for forgiveness so many times from you and others. People tell me to repent. I’m married now. I think I’ve turned away from a lifestyle of that one sin of adultery. What do you want??”

Silence.

R: “Please let me know you’re listening. So many times I’ve just wanted to give up. I can’t stand going to church. I can’t stand going anywhere. I’ve drug so many people down. I’ve disappointed so many.”

Silence.

R: “Maybe I should just shut up.”

Silence.

More silence. I’m about to give up again.

God: “Why do you still hang you head down when you go out in public? Why do you stare at the floor when you’re at the grocery or in town?”

Just like God to change the subject.

R: “I’m ashamed. I don’t want to see the faces of those people I’ve disappointed.”

G: “You should fear me more. I’m the one you sinned against.”

R: I’m beating my hands on the bed I’m leaning against at this point. “I know, Lord. It eats me alive. People tell me I haven’t repented, that I’m not apologetic. That I’m not forgiven.”

G: “You are forgiven. You sinned, violated my law, but now, you are clean by my Son. When you bring it up, it’s you bringing it up, not me. A huge mess was made, yes. But it’s over. I will still use you, but you must seek humility. I no longer see you as a fallen pastor. I see you as my beloved child.”

I paused and wept. God had a better view of me than I did. He had a better view of me than most people and pastors in my community. Was this me talking to myself? It didn’t feel like it. Was I going crazy? Possibly. But it didn’t feel like it.

R: “Are you still there? Can I please ask something even though I don’t deserve it? I just want my kids to be okay.”

G: “Do they seem alright?”

R: “Yes. By your grace.”

G: “Rejoice. Remember what you learned a long time ago. They are only in your hands for a short time, but in my hands forever.”

R: I couldn’t remember where I had heard that. “What am I supposed to do now?”

G: “Love like you couldn’t love before this. Remember what it was like to feel grace at the lowest point. Share it. Never forget it. Give it to others.”

Like that, it was over. It was like I was in some sort of weird, dizzying trance the entire time. Maybe I had too much medication in my system. Maybe I was delirious from stress. Because, I’ll be honest. I’m the last person to believe stuff like this when it happens to others. I had a lady come up to me and tell me that God spoke to her like this regularly once. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Maybe he does. Good for you!”

I slept for a long time after that. Immediately after I woke, I remembered, “Remember what you learned a long time ago. They are only in your hands for a short time, but in my hands forever.” That was something my mother used to say to me. She’d tell me that she’d worry about me and fret, but that she knew that God took better care of me than she ever could.

God cares for the fallen pastor. He loves the fallen pastor. Heck, after the fallen pastor repents, he’s not even a fallen pastor anymore. He’s just a renewed Christian with a new mission. God cares about all of His flock. When the one goes astray, He seeks Him out, leaving the 99 behind.

Don’t ever doubt God’s love when you are sinning (feel free to know that He will discipline to get you back, though). He will put you back on the path. Even when you scramble it up really badly, He will restore you. He loves you that much.

________________________________

Ray Carroll is author of Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World. He is also a contributing author at Provoketive Magazine.

God Is At Work Amongst Fallen Pastors: Are You Interested?

Over the past month or so, I’ve been contacted by several men who are pastors who fell from ministry. I get contacted a lot, so that’s no surprise. But each of them has had one clear thing in mind – doing something to reach out and help other fallen pastors. To find a way to get them together and help them.

That’s not a coincidence. That is God at work, possibly pushing us to ministry.

I’ve been talking to my friend John Wilbanks about this for a bit, but it seems to be picking up a little speed.

There is a definite need for some type of retreat, seminar, or getaway to help fallen ministers. I don’t know if it would be regional or nationwide. I don’t know how it would be staffed, who would speak or where it could happen. All I know is that God is putting this thing together in His glorious time and in His way. I’m just trying to listen.

People are contacting me because God is moving them to. I’m not a planner, I’m more of a problem solver/facilitator. I’m the guy who puts person A and person B together so they can get stuff figured out.

So what am I blogging on about? I’m asking a simple question – has God been speaking to you about this? Has He specifically given you guidance about this very thing? If He has, let me know. I don’t know how it’s going to work, but if He’s moving, I don’t want to miss it.

All you have to do is send me a comment for this blog post. I won’t publish it, but I’ll respond to you via email. If you’re serious and have some ideas, I’ll probably call you and we’ll see what’s going on. I’m excited. To God be the glory!

The Long Climb Out

I alluded to the fact that I’ve been fighting depression in my last post. I probably wasn’t as forthcoming as I should have been. Up until a week ago, I was probably fighting the worst bout of depression I’ve ever faced in my life.

I’m telling you this not for sympathy. I’m sharing this because so many people suffer from and fight with depression. I’ve been told that I’m transparent on this blog. I can be. So I might as well be forthcoming about this.

My mother struggled with depression worse than I ever will. I’ve battled it for a long time, but haven’t had a problem with it since my fall from ministry. I don’t know where this recent onset came from. It just happened. People who suffer from depression will understand what that means. People who don’t, won’t.

After it kicked it, it seemed like horrible thing after horrible thing started happening. I seemed to have the worst luck in the world. Depression makes everything seem worse, sure – but there were a lot/have been a lot of terrible events going on around here.

For a couple of weeks, I thought it was everyone else. But I knew there was a problem when I didn’t want to write. That’s when I know there’s a problem. Finally, when it got really bad, I reached out to a few people, including my doctor, and got help. People say, “You should have told me.” That’s just it. When you’re suffering from depression, you don’t ask for help. You think you deserve to suffer.

I laid in bed most days until it was time to go to work. I didn’t want to do anything. I just laid there. Waiting for it all to end. It wasn’t that I just didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t see the point. Thank God for Allison, who was extremely patient at some very crucial moments.

God spoke through many during that time. I got four emails from fallen pastors/fallen pastor’s wives. I thought, “Who am I to help right now? I’m a wreck?” God basically said, “It’s because you’re a wreck that I chose you in the first place.” He gently reminded me through others that He still had plans for me.

Last week, I finally felt the joy coming back slowly. I started back with one of my hobbies – geocaching. It’s like a world wide treasure hunt with a GPS. I haven’t done it in a while. The pictures on the blog are from a couple of caches I went and looked for today at the Trail of Tears park here in town. When I was at my worst, I wouldn’t have seen the beauty around me or appreciated it. Today, I got a chance to get where it was quiet, enjoy my hobby, and just enjoy God.

And today, I wrote. Not begrudgingly, but from my heart. Because I wanted to. It’s been a long climb out of the pit.

It makes me think of Psalm 40. A Psalm so good that U2 wrote a song to it:

  I waited patiently for the LORD;
        he inclined to me and heard my cry.
    He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
        out of the miry bog,
    and set my feet upon a rock,
        making my steps secure.
    He put a new song in my mouth,
        a song of praise to our God.
    Many will see and fear,
        and put their trust in the LORD.
(Psalm 40:1-3 ESV)

Our God is good, all the time. And even in the midst of our sorrow, depression and weakness, He teaches us, carries us and pulls us out.

Is Your Heart Right? & “Is Whitney Houston in Heaven?”

I’m taking a short hiatus for a few days. I’m having a procedure done on my heart called an ablation. I’ve been having issues with my heart speeding up whenever it darn well pleases over the past ten years. It came to a head over a month ago when I ended up in the emergency room with a heart rate of 250.

On Thursday, a surgeon will go into my heart, fiddle with it for about four hours and then burn a little place on it to make it stop. Good times.

Easy blog post topic. Is my heart right? Nope. Can I fix it? Nope. Only a trained medical professional can. And I trust him to put me under and make me right again.

In the same way, all of us have heart issues that need to be dealt with. Desperately. Whether they are sins that we continually struggle with or personality flaws, they need to be diagnosed. Guess who the worst person to diagnose them is? Us. When we ask ourselves if we have a problem, we rarely ever think we do.

That’s why we have God’s objective Word to root out our sin. Read it, cling to it, apply it to your heart and see if the Master Physician doesn’t give you a diagnosis. Don’t stay away from the parts you don’t like either. Read it all.

When you’re ready to be healed, he will heal. Completely.

Which brings me to one final thought before I head into my Thursday surgery. I wrote an article about the death of Whitney Houston for Provoketive Magazine. Since her death, a lot of Christians have been arguing whether she is in heaven or hell. If you listen to the overwhelming voices of the Christians, you would come to the conclusion that she is in hell.

I don’t have a dog in the fight when it comes to Whitney Houston. I know she was raised in a Christian home, claimed to have professed her faith in Christ and had many high and low points in her life.

I think what surprises me is how willing the Christian majority is to pass judgment upon someone and pronounce hell upon them.  Frankly, it’s rather scary.

What I see in the New Testament is a call to be regenerated. Something only God can do. By Christ, we are justified. When God looks at us, He no longer sees us, but His Son. God no longer judges us on our merits or works but on the work of Christ. That’s a good thing.

In the words of Paul, does that give us license to sin more? Heaven forbid it!

We are called to live a life of sanctification, holiness, pleasing to God. We are, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, to persevere in our faith until the end.

Will it always be easy? Will we fail? Will we falter? Will we fall? Yes. I’m living proof. But he picks us up over and over again. Who does he pick up? Those who seek him out. Those who belong to him.

He’s revealed to us as a Father. We’re his kids. We go astray like a bunch of sheep. Should we? No. But we do. He disciplines us when we do. But like a good Father, if we are truly His, He never gives up on us. Ever.

I’ve heard a lot of well-meaning Christians say that Ms. Houston is in hell. I don’t know. It’s not a topic to be thrown around on the Internet carelessly. I do know this. When we are chosen by God, when we become one with Christ, when He becomes our Father forever, nothing can take us away from Him. Can a person get caught up in a sinful lifestyle with guilt and regret, knowing they need to return to God? Yes.

What does this look like? When the sinner (backslidden alcoholic, addict, fornicator, etc.) comes to the church and says, “I messed up, can God forgive me? Will you forgive me?” The church’s response is, “Of course, we do. God forgives.”

Fast forward six months down the road. The same thing happens. Same words. The church says, “You’re still having trouble, we want to help you still because God helps you still.”

What if it happens over and over? Does the church give up? Does God give up? I think the answer is to be found in the heart of a person who is truly repentant over their sin and seeking restoration and holiness and a person who just doesn’t care. Those who return to the Lord for help are those who are seeking Him

And the Christian fellowship should be right there alongside those people with encouragement, love and offering hope. God gave us each other in this murky world. It’s not an easy place to be. I fear that those who cast the most judgment are those who have never fallen far, and I hope they never do. They are those who have never come face to face with the absolute need for grace and forgiveness of God.

May we all be more sensitive toward those in our world who need restoration and light.

How Did I Get Here? Jonathan Brink, Providence and Who Knows?

It’s 1:30 in the morning.

A few rugged hours from now, I’ll be preaching and signing some books.

It’s really time for me to be honest with my readers. I’m about to put it on the line. I’m about to publish a blog at 2:00 am Central time, when no one is up. No one reads on Sunday morning. Or afternoon. But there’s a few things I have to say. And I’m going to say it anyway.

There’s a song by the Talking Heads that says, “How did I get here?” That’s how I feel right now. As a man who believes in the sovereignty of God, a man who knows from the foundation of the world God had a plan, that He has no plan B, I am absolutely amazed that I am where I am at this moment.

Two years ago, I was struggling. I was blogging anonymously, trying to rid my head of the pain that beset me. It was there that a man named Jonathan Brink found me. Let me be clear – Jonathan Brink is not a guy I would have ever probably talked to 10 years ago. His theology and ideas would have scared me. After I fell, there was something about him that made him different from every other Christian that turned their back on me. You know what it was? He loved me for who I was. He just loved me for the person I was.

Yeah, I’m a Southern Baptist Calvinist who loves God. But guess what? After I’ve fallen, I was surrounded by men like Jonathan who loved me. The people who believed like I did abandoned me for the most part. Jonathan believed in me, saw worth in me and gave me a shot. I’ve shared with him my fears, my weakness. He’s seen the worst of me in my writing. And he cares about me anyway. I know that in this world, there are few men like him. And I’m proud to call him my brother in Christ. My friend.

In the past two years, I found restoration with God. Because of men like Jonathan, like my pastor Jimmy Stewart, I know that I am no longer a fallen pastor. I’m Ray Carroll. A child of God. A restored creation. A man who sees a broken system in the church who can warn others of what is out there.

I get calls frequently of pastors who are out there who know there is something wrong. They aren’t quite sure what it is, but they are feeling the system is beating them down. As a man who was in that system and felt the worst of it, I can console them. I can help them through it.

The church culture today isn’t the best. It isn’t what Christ wants for us, I don’t think. He wants authentic Christian community. Most of us are blind to it. I was. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand it until I fell.

I’ve had a lot of people read my book. Not just fallen pastors. I’ve had a lot of church people read my book. All of them have said the same thing – “I had no idea what pastors go through. It must be awful. My eyes are now opened to what you went through. Something needs to change.”

Yes, it does.

I have this idea that runs through my feeble little head many nights before I fall asleep. What if Jesus were to walk into our churches on a Sunday morning? What if He were to see what we were doing? Would He be pleased? Or would He hang His head in shame?

I have a strong belief that if Christ came into our communities, He would avoid our churches. He would go straight for those areas that our churches avoid. He would walk into the low income areas, the strip clubs, the minority neighborhoods, the welfare sections and the unchurched areas. He would go where our churches are afraid to go. And he would minister.

He would go to the places where we don’t want to go. Why? Because we don’t want those people in our churches. We want people in church to look like us. To act like us. To conform like us.

We’re really no different than the Pharisees.

About six months before I fell, I had a deacon quit the church and leave. It was before I ever got involved in adultery. When he left, he called me a “Pharisee.” I got really mad about that. Looking back, he was right. I was a Pharisee. I was a hypocrite. I only wanted my way. I only wanted to justify my actions. I wanted the black and white.

Thank you, God. Thank you for men like Jonathan. Men who have the voice to speak to the truth even though many tell them they are wrong. Thank you that there are people who speak loudly, even though they are called heretics. But I now know that there is love in those people. People whose love speaks louder than the judgment of those who are part of the established tradition. Your Word is true. It is right. But it is also proven over and over again through action.

How did I get here? Through the grace and providence of God. Working through others. I fall on my face, thanking Him that I am even worthy of His mercy.

 

“Look at me, I’m a gravy boat!”

I have somewhat of an ego problem.

Now, if you know me at all, you’ll find yourself tossing your head back, laughing and saying, “Oh, really? Tell me something I didn’t know, Ray.”

This really has something to do with gravy, the world’s greatest food/beverage. I promise. I’ll get there in a minute.

In my book, I interviewed a guy I named Kris. He admitted to having a big problem with his ego. He said that his ego got way too big for him to manage. He said that in his megachurch, he loved to advertise. In fact, he said something along the lines of, “Advertising for me is like crack cocaine.”

I found after my interviews that a lot of pastors who fell fed off of appreciation and affirmation. It was like a drug for them. It was like that for me. I needed constant reassurance. Thankfully, I got a lot of that from my mom who constantly told me how proud she was of me. But one day, she was gone.

Let me tell you how I’ve been operating in the flesh for the past few weeks. I’ve got some nice business cards with my picture on one side and a picture of my book on the back. Snazzy. I’ve got postcards I’m mailing out to advertise my book signing. Lovely. There’s nothing wrong with those things. I’m happy that I’ve got a book out there that has the potential to help a lot of people.

One of my favorite quotes from Sir Conan Arthur Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes series is when Holmes says the following to Watson:

“My dear Watson,” said he, “I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one’s self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers.”

The only problem is that some of us don’t know how to measure modesty. I get a pat on the back, a few words of encouragement and it goes straight to my head. It empowers my sinful ego. I begin to think, “Yeah, I did that! Look at how far I’ve come!” And next thing you know, I’m Alexander the Great.

To be honest, I’ve been an absolute jerk to live with the past few weeks. Know why? Because I’m the “guy who wrote a book.” Look at me.

I had a wake up call today. God put me in my place. And it wasn’t nice. Remember this verse from 2 Corinthians 4:7?

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

It came crashing to my mind today along with a mind picture.

I love gravy. It is the greatest thing ever invented. My mom used to make the best brown gravy after she would make fried chicken. I’m really keen on white gravy. It really does count as a beverage. You can pour it on anything. Bacon, fried chicken, meat loaf, pancakes. Anyway, gravy is the bomb.

If you are a gravy connoisseur, you must have a gravy boat. There are some decent gravy boats out there too. You can get them made of glass, silver, stainless steel or ceramic. When that gravy boat comes to the table with piping hot gravy, you may make notice of it for a moment, but you are really craving the gravy. When that gravy comes, you could care less if the gravy is served in a brown paper bag.

When I fell two years ago and God took my horrible mess, redeemed me, saved me, made me whole again, I was nothing. He scraped me up off the dang pavement and put me upright. For some reason, he saw fit to allow me to put a story into words that might help other people out there. I have no idea why He did it, but He did it. It was in His sovereign plan and purpose to do so and He did it.

I had nothing to offer Him but a broken soul and heart. I was a fifty cent gravy boat held together with super glue and duct tape. But He saw fit to put in me a message of importance – His message. The gravy that might help some people and minister to Him. Not my message, His message. Not because Ray Carroll is important, not because I have some great ability, but because He is an awesome God.

I was needfully reminded today that if there is anything good to come out of this book, my life, my ministry, it is all because of Him, not me. I am a broken down gravy boat. Without Him, I have nothing. Without Him, I have no voice. Without Him, I have nothing to offer. I have no tomorrow.

Lord, thank you for reminding me that I am a vessel. The worth I have comes from the treasure of your Son, Jesus Christ that you have filled me with. Do what you will with the treasure you have given to me. May the glory belong to You and You alone.

Finding Restoration in a Broken World

Today is the official release date for my book, Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.

I’ve got a thousand different emotions going on and a lot of things I want to blog about, but today, I want to take a moment to write about the basic idea of the book.

I fell from the pastorate two years ago when I committed adultery. There were a lot of factors that led to my fall that are common among other pastors. Unrealistic expectations, isolation from friendships, declining relationship with spouse, church conflict and major tragedy. In the end, it was my decision to sin. I’ve discussed that a lot on this blog.

Today, I stand in amazement, though. I’ve found restoration.

Two years ago, I hit rock bottom. I thought God wasn’t listening and I was sure He didn’t care about me. I felt like a failure as a pastor (before and after I fell), I had lost both parents in separate accidents within a year of each other, and I had no one to talk to. In fact, I was pretty sure God had it in for me.

There were days long before I even contemplated adultery that I stood in the pulpit with a smile on my face, tie on properly, shirt pressed, but with a dark, hardened heart. Then the fall came. During the months after, I was sure no one would ever speak to me again. I was sure the stain of sin would be a mark that could never be removed. I was sure that shame would be my constant companion for the rest of my miserable life.

Slowly, repentance came. I discovered that truly, God is a longsuffering and patient God. If He were not, I would have been a grease stain on the carpet of my former church a long time ago. He waited for me when I would not wait for Him.

After I sinned, I had few people who would speak to me, but the ones who remained were the right ones. They encouraged me, loved me and walked with me. I had two close friends who were patient, sometimes firm, but always loving. I reached out to fallen pastors throughout the country who were in various stages of their own fall. They each encouraged me, told me the truth and prayed with me.

My new wife Allison and I also went through a process during that time as well. She watched me as I went from angry to depressed to anxious to humbled.

Those months were terrible, yet redeeming. They are etched in my mind and will stay with me forever. They were necessary for God to break me and make me into something usable.

Very few are willing to reach out to a fallen pastor. It’s something I ponder in the book. A lot of people don’t know what to say to him. Some people think they might be “guilty by association” if they speak to him. Typically, he is cast out, never to be heard from again.

At some point, God grabbed me and said, “I’m not done with you. I have plans for you, but I’m going to humble your proud heart in the process.” He did. And He continues to do so.

When I speak of restoration, I don’t mean restoration to the pulpit. I don’t even mean restoration to the ministry. I just believe that fallen pastors need to be shown compassion and love. They need people to walk with them, to show them the way to brokenness and repentance. It’s important because even a pastor can’t always find the right path, even though we think they should know the way.

I recently joined a ministry team, Fallen Pastors (www.fallenpastors.com) who help pastors who are contemplating sexual sin or who have already fallen. They have a small staff, but do their best to answer every email. If you are a fallen pastor or are in trouble, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. It can become isolated, it can feel like you’re alone. But you’re not.

This book isn’t about me. It’s not about my glorification. It’s about the glory of God and restoring those who have fallen. There is a problem with the culture in which we live. The best thing about problems is that they are fixable. Together, with the compassion of Christ, we can fix people, we can fix cultures and we can find restoration in this broken world.

____________________

Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World is available at Amazon.com. It will be available soon at other outlets. Ask your local bookstore about availability.

 

%d bloggers like this: