“So, You’re The Adulterer!”

(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).

I love talking to people who work in funeral homes. They have some of the most amazing personalities. They deal with people and care for them at the worst point in their lives on a daily basis. Yet, most of them have the best attitude when you get to know them.

The other day, I was riding in the pallbearer car back to the funeral home with a lady who helped manage the funeral home. We had been talking a bit and she said, “What do you do?”

We had already talked enough that she knew I worked in sports medicine. What this 50-something woman who knew people really wanted to know was, “What was I doing as a pallbearer at this funeral?”

I said, “I used to pastor this church that most of these people went to.

She said, half-joking, “What did they do? Kick you out?

I had to smile because she probably wouldn’t have asked it like that if she had known. Or maybe she would have. She had a great sense of humor and, like most funeral directors, shot pretty straight.

I committed adultery,” I said.

Her mouth dropped wide open, “Ooooooohhhh!” I thought for a second the car was going off the road as she adjusted her sunglasses. Then she looked at me and said, smiling, “I’ve heard about you.

I said, “Most of it is probably true, I’m sure.” Her statement would have bothered me two years ago, but thanks to a lot of helpful people, time and forgiveness, I just smile.

She said, “You wrote a book! Didn’t you?

Yes ma’am, I did. Did you read it?” I asked.

No, I didn’t think I needed to, I’m not a pastor,” she said.

Well, it’s not just for pastors,” I told her. “It’s for everyone. It’s about learning to forgive, what we expect of our pastors, how we can restore people, how we’re all sinners…

She stopped me and continued my thought, “You know, you’re just a sinner like me. You’re no different. We all mess up. Why is it people find it so hard to forgive pastors?

That’s a great question,” I said. “We are all sinners. I disappointed a lot of people who expected more from me. And they should have.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t forgive,” she said with a slight frown.

No, it doesn’t,” I said. “It just takes some longer than others. Hurt can last a long time. I haven’t always been perfect and no one else is either.”

We talked about other stuff on the way back to the funeral home. For instance, I found out it was easier to make creme brûlée than I thought.

She let me out at my car and said, “Thanks for sharing that. You’re a good person.”

I knew what she meant. And I appreciated her saying so. But I’m not good. None of us are. None of our heroes are good. They are all stained with sin and mere moments from a fall. When they do fall, I pray we all have courage to forgive.

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.

Another Fallen Pastor, More Judging.

I just read a story about Zachery Tims, pastor of a megachurch in Orlando, Florida. Never heard of him before tonight. Apparently, he was found dead in New York from a drug overdose. The article I link tells of his roller coaster past.

He had one of the largest churches in central Florida – over 7,000 members.

As a young man, he was in and out of jail.

As a pastor, he had started a youth center  in 2005 in hopes that it would help kids stay out of trouble.

In 2009, he and his wife divorced after he admitted to an affair with a stripper that had lasted over a year.

Funny how a man’s life can be summed up in less than 500 words. However, the public can chime in and say whatever they want these days in the “comment” section. Here’s a sampling that made me weep:

Oh Brother Tim’s we forgive you. That white powder was baby powder you were handing out to un-wed mothers. The hooker you were boffing was just a misunderstanding,you were really administering to her soul. The prison time you spent was just a test of your faith. It’s a shame that the woman you were married to for 15yrs. turned out to be such a bad person. Imagine leaving you after all that time just bcause of an alledged affair, where is that womans faith Rev. Tim’s?

Hypocrites, Most of these right wing church pastors and their flock of sheeple, love money more than God.

RIGHT ON! This guy was up to no good-he probably is warm enough where he resides now. ETERNITY IS FOREVER!

The paper reported that Tims had been in and out of jail as a young man… In 2009, Tims and his wife Riva divorced after he admitted to a year-long affair with a stripper. Sounds qualified to me to tell others how they should live their lives, eh? Petty criminal and a cheat – just what you’d want standing in the pulpit……. Sheesh.

I don’t know this man. I don’t know his theology or his life or his ambitions. However, I do know one thing. It’s not right to throw stones at a dead horse.

None of us knows his heart, the pressure he was under or what changes he had made in his life. All we know about him is what we read in 500 words. It sure is easy to judge a man by a news article.

How would any of us feel if someone were given a brief, 2 minute synopsis of our life then were allowed to judge us quickly based on what they heard? I doubt we would like it. Did this man make grievous errors and sins? Absolutely. He sinned and messed up tremendously. However, it is not for the public to judge. It is not for us to “comment” on. All of us are wretched and if our lives were to be openly displayed online for public comment, we would fare no better than Zachery Tims.

It is very easy to comment anonymously from our computers on the downward path of a fallen pastor who strayed with a stripper and died from a cocaine overdose than to look within our own wretched hearts, isn’t it? Each of us are lawbreakers. If our secret lives were displayed so openly, we would have to run for cover while people bombarded our Facebook and Twitter accounts with harsh, unloving messages for months.

So I might suggest to commenters at large . . . you’re not any different than a fallen pastor. All of us are hypocrites. Just some of us have further to fall.

A Message From The Past

Allison and I are in beautiful New Orleans enjoying a business/personal vacation that is well needed for us. It’s a good time of quiet and rest.

It’s given me time to reflect on my book and the process of writing and my attitude over the past couple of years and hopefully how I’ve changed. My relationships with people have gotten better, but I still have a long way to go.

Last night, I got up during one of my usual restless spells and checked my email and saw there was a comment to be moderated for my blog. I didn’t publish it. At first I thought it was from someone who didn’t know me who was just trying to push my buttons, but they knew too many details.

It’s from one of my former church members. I’m not typing this out to make a point about them. I’ll get to my point in a minute. Here’s some of the text:

“I’ve read your blog a bit, along with your wife’s. Now, The lord loves honesty and that’s what i’m going to give you. My opinion: You were a horrible pastor, just as you are a horrible writer. Now I sit there in the pew nice and quiet like, but goodness gracious when you were going on and on about the same old thing for 45 minutes, I almost fell asleep. And I never fell asleep in church before then, and I sure don’t now. I mean good Christ mister, how many times you gotta say that relationships are the juice of the lord’s loins? Spit it out junior.

But I did like that part where you cried. Just cried and cried and cried. Oh Lordy, I laughed my dentures out. Now that Allison, she’s a doozy of a *****. Now i shouldn’t be so judgmental, but i am. We all have our faults and the lord will forgive me. He’ll forgive me, for thinking that you’re a hypocritical piece of ****. I have alot more to say but, i think instead of telling you, i’m a gonna write me a little blog titled “Church still disgusted with the fallen pastor and his **** wife”, Under my username “God hates you”. Everything is hunky dory for you right now son, but just you be a waitin. The lord aint gonna punish you foolish kids fer your actions but theres this here thing called karma and shes a big ol’ ****, and some day soon.. she’s gonna find you. Word of advice, I hope you were at least smart enough to choose a church that has a pastor whom is too old and unattractive for your ******wife to seduce, be careful there partner and if things shall get rough, DON’T LET HER GET MARRIAGE COUNSELLING FROM YOUR PASTOR. DON’T DO IT.
With Love,
A former member of ******** Church.”

I didn’t publish the name of my former church and won’t ever mention it on this blog. There’s no purpose in it. I was the one who sinned. They have every right to be angry. And one bad email from one angry person doesn’t mean all of them feel that way. Several of them have been very kind to me and it has made my heart glad.

On to my point, this email didn’t make either of us upset. Six months out of my sin, it would have ticked me off terribly. In fact, I wrote a passive aggressive letter to my church that I never should have written about a year out. I hadn’t fully repented and I was angry at everyone.

The most important thing I’ve learned in all of this was from a pastor who said, “Ray, you don’t get to judge someone else’s reaction to your sin.” Even if they go too far and get angry, start name calling or even shoot me in the head, I don’t get to judge them. Why? Because they’re angry over what I did. He’s  right. I have to extend them grace, patience and love. The same grace, patience and love I want to be extended. The same grace, patience and love Christ extended to me.

You know what? It’s really not that hard when you’ve hit the bottom. Once you’ve lost it all, been at the bottom and all you could see when you were looking up is the hand of God reaching down, you can give the same to others.

For the rest of my life, I will, as David said, have my sin ever before me. There will always be consequences for my actions. I hope that the person who wrote that can find peace in life and with God, and eventually with me. I’m terribly sorry for the hurt I caused them. I’m sorry I failed them as a pastor and pray they will find a contented life now.

For me, I pray for better choices and a life clothed in my redeemed Savior. For me and my beautiful wife.

POST UPDATE:

I got a response from the original writer, same IP address and email. It was a little harsher and needs more editing. Again, I really don’t believe this person represents the feelings of my old church. Several of the people I’ve talked to have been kind to me. However, this response shows the hurt a pastor can cause when he disrupts a church when he falls and the anger that can remain:

Dear Mr. Ray Carrol,

We all hate ya, and none of us want your “grace, compassion, or patience”. You can shove all that right up your devil-lovin’ ***. Also, thinkin’ you’re forgiven for your sin because you prayed for it doesn’t change a thing. You’re still living your sin! Rather than making amends with your family and your ex-wife, you married that cheatin’ Allison! Where’s the regret, the guilt? You betrayed God’s commandments to man and chose to live in adultery. Gettin’ married don’t make it no better. You’ll burn, mister.

Thanks for listenin’, and I hope when you meet the little Baby Jesus and Allah Lord of Lords at the gangplank to the Millenium Falcon with Chewie and Buddha ridin’ shotgun, they greet you with open arms! (otherwise your deviled eggs)

Signed,
Your friends at ***** ****Church

My Response:

The compassion, love and grace I offer is real. I also offer forgiveness to you. Whether you accept it is up to you. I do know that I have been forgiven by God. My sin was great. My fall was great.

I also know that all sin is abominable in His sight. However, thanks to Christ, it is also freely forgiven. Not because of anything I have done, but because of what He did for me at the cross. What grieves me the most is not the sin I committed at my former church or the impact it had. What grieves me most is that my sin was responsible for the death of my Savior. But I am thankful that His grace abounds to save even a wretch like me. I am thirsty for that grace. When no one else seemed to come after me in my darkness, He was there, calling for me.

Before I fell I was pompous, prideful, arrogant and thought I knew it all. Now I realize I knew nothing. All I really need to know is a Savior who gave all for me. I’m still not perfect, still not humble, still not really much of anything. I’m still a sinner. But each day I’m trying to look away from what I want and toward what He wants.

I hope someday you will forgive me and release your anger. I hope someday you will find peace. Maybe you can start by showing what you wrote to me to your pastor and seek his help in studying the Word. Christ wants all his children to be at peace.

What I really desire is what I have been given by a handful of people since my fall and I hope to be given by more who witnessed my fall. It is found in Galatians 6:1: “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.”

That is my hope and prayer.

My Mess, God’s Message: Prelude To A Fall

So, here’s my story in earnest.

I grew up in beautiful Russellville, Arkansas in a Christian home. I had a goofy sister (she’s still goofy) and a good network of friends. My dad was a health physicist, which means he was Homer Simpson and worked at the local nuclear power plant. My mom was a stay-at-home mom but also penned ten Christian books in her spare time.

I left Arkansas to attend Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri to pursue studies to be a certified athletic trainer. At the end of my junior year, my college roommate was killed in a car accident along with four other students. It was one of several turning points in my life. It was also around that time that I started dating my ex-wife. We got married shortly after we graduated the next year.

From there, we went to Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky where I pursued a Master’s degree in exercise science. While there, I also received the call to ministry. It was there that I also found a wonderful church and my mentor, Jim Simmons. I was only there two years, but the people there were some of the best friends I ever made.

From there, I went to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to pursue a Master of Divinity in Theology. It was a lot of information to process. That experience broke me down then built me back up. My first daughter was born while I was there. When I left seminary, I felt like I was ready to pastor anywhere.

We left Louisville and came to Western Kentucky for a sports medicine job. Shortly after, I was called by a smaller church and I started being a bi-vocational pastor. I stayed in that position for eight  years until my fall. It was during those eight years that my second daughter was born.

Just to set the scene for the rest of the story, I need to be clear about what I’m going to write about and what I won’t write about. I won’t be saying anything negative about my ex-wife or my former church. That’s not what this is about. I will, however, be writing about my experience, what I went through, and the social issues around me.

So, I will tell you this. When I got out of seminary, I was very judgmental. I regret that.

When I saw sin in the church, I wanted to judge it. I wanted it gone. I wanted it to be severed from the fellowship. It made me angry. I honestly thought I was “hating the sin and loving the sinner” but I wasn’t. I can remember Sundays where I was preaching from an angry place in my heart.If I had been pastor and someone had done what I did, I would have run them off with a fifty pound bible and a sack of doorknobs. In fact, there were times I was very harsh to people about their sin and I thought I was doing the right thing. I wasn’t. I was being judgmental and unloving. I showed no compassion.

I’ve learned on the other side of my sin that our Savior is a compassionate, longsuffering Savior. Does He hate sin? Yes. But He absolutely loves the sinner. He is kind, patient, understanding and spends time listening to them.

While pastoring, I loved preaching and I’d like to think I did a pretty good job. I loved interacting with people. I loved Lord’s Supper Sunday. I loved fellowshipping. But too often, I lacked a compassionate heart when it came to sinners. And that, my friends, is a key part of being a shepherd.

I hope others may learn from my mistakes. Thank God He has forgiven me for that heart attitude and has healed me. Thank God He has renewed my mind. Thank God for second chances.

The Judgment Within The Human Heart

I didn’t plan on this blog post. It’s spur of the moment. A small speed bump in the middle of my series on reconciling with a fallen pastor.

Here’s a story on Roman Catholic priest Thomas Euteneuer who admitted to crossing the line of chastity with a female. He says he didn’t engage in any sexual contact. He’s left his parish and admitted fault.

I’ve been making the point in my last few posts about how churches, members, and individuals react to the sin of the clergy. Some let it ride off their backs, some react harshly and with extreme judgment, and some don’t care.

Case in point? Read some of the comments below the story. Fascinating. We are at heart a people of judgment. However, some have learned to be compassionate. I regret that I used to be judgmental – still have some of it in me.

I’ve copied some of the variation of comments here:

____________

Get rid of him, stop hiding him. Send him to the Vatican and let them deal with him. This is another stain and a continuation of hiding priests who screw up.
____________

Since you’re so absolutely perfect in all YOUR individual thoughts and actions, then I guess we’ll just take your advice and do everything you demand As for me, yeah, I’ve screwed up and sinned in the past And I may even sin again, probably with violence and extreme prejudice, if I ever got my hands on ANYONE who abuses a child So let’s hear what sentence you’ve determined that I should suffer, oh perfect one This guy screwed up, and publicly admitted it. Good for him.

____________

Perfect – another example of FINE catholic upbringing. Who cares if it was an adult or not – it was just plain WRONG. Don’t you people get it – WRONG !!!! He needs to be expelled from the EVERY church and not EVER be allowed to be in a position of authority again. PERIOD…

____________
Forgive as we would like to be forgiven. He sinned in chastity only, w/o the sexual act and with an adult woman. Give the man a break. He is human as we all are. He feels remorse and will conduct himself better in the future. He probably just got emotionally close and wound up holding and kissing her. Really, have some compassion. Being a Priest and bearing everyone’s burdens is an extremely heavy load to carry. He is obviously very caring and sincerely devout.

____________

..and one more thing: He who hath never sinned, cast the first stone. You people make me sick – you would love nothing more than to see this man crucified by the church for a mistake he made, with no apparent “victim”, for which he has apologized. You people are so hardcore and cruel you are no better than those Muslim hardliners stoning women to death. You are like dogs turning on the weak. “In Christianity, neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point.” -Nietzsche

____________

I am of a different opinion. He might be a priest, but he is still human. The story above does not give too many details. He admits he made a mistake and he is taking responsibility for it. Humans make mistakes. It sounds as if he knows there will be consequences and he is ready to face them. I wish we had more people taking responsibility these days. The biggest person he has to take this up with is God. I feel for the victim and her family and hope they find peace. May God be with them

____________

eh, you put your faith in God and not into ordained clergy, then this type of thing doesn’t really phase you or shake your faith.

____________

The Vat had on the books capital punishment until 60 years ago. For the pervert priests who have sex with boys/men, they should kill them. For priests who are otherwise in violation of celibacy, they should scourge them and then keep them in a cloistered monetary for the duration of their lives. In addition to this, any married person who does not keep their vow of marriage should be publicly scourged. Severely. Divorce should be punishable by public hanging.

Oh, How I Love Your Law! Or Do I?

I was pulling off the interstate the other day and I saw a policeman on the bridge. He was clocking people. Just waiting for the wayward speeder. On the inside, I was cheering for him to get someone. Why? Because I hadn’t been speeding that day.

I have this secret fascination with the police. I would love to ride around with one and watch him bust the bad guys. The police do a great job and I commend them. They are the first in line to uphold the law of the land. I cheer for the law. When I read about a criminal getting his rightful sentence by a judge and jury in the paper, a part of me cheers. When I see an episode of COPS on TV and the bad guy gets his comeuppance, my just side feels like all is right.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had two speeding tickets. One of those had a reckless driving and an improper passing attached to it. On both occasions, I was very respectful to the officer and knew he was doing his job. He was upholding the law that I had broken. I knew I was caught and he was right to bust me for it.

But then . . . I think about my adultery. I got caught red-handed. I was discovered by my wife at the time. Of course, God already knew, but her discovery laid bare my sin before the entire community. My ex-wife told my family, my friends, her friends, the church, and anyone she could about what I did in her anger. I deserved that, I suppose.

What was worse, I realized that God wasn’t kidding when He said, “your sin will find you out.”

God is the ultimate policeman. However, He doesn’t always pull us over when He sees us speeding right away. Sometimes He lets us get away with it for a while. Sometimes He lets us think we’re really, really smart. He gives us a chance to right our own path. He gives us a chance to wallow in our sin.

But finally, He’ll bring down the hammer. It hurts. Bad. The justice that I demand that other people get, I hate when it is applied to me. Yeah, I know it’s a double standard. I don’t mind when it’s a speeding ticket that I can pay. But when it’s the huge cost of adultery that costs me everything, including public humiliation? That’s a little more difficult.

Was I ready to pay the price to be with Cynthia? Absolutely. But I didn’t like it when the law was applied to me.

Now, over a year after my transgression, I have a different attitude. God is a just judger. Thank goodness He judges like He does. He is gracious in His judgment. You know what? He is more than fair in what He does. If He really wanted to judge me like I deserved, He would strike me down before I ever got out of bed in the morning.

Even after my soul was saved, my heart still needs to be protected against anger, pride and hatred. I have to seek after the Savior. I am an angry man against those who have judged me wrongly.

I had a conversation with Angelica recently that might shed light on this. She talks to a lot of people from Angel Falls about me. People who have decided that they will never speak to me again. She told me that they ask questions like, “Does he take care of you?” or “Does he do what he’s supposed to?”

She said she answers, “He pays his child support on time.”

To me, that is an inadequate answer. I have gone above and beyond what I should do. I go above and beyond what 99.9% of most deadbeat dads do. I pay my child support based on seeing my kids only once every other week, despite the fact that Angelica asks me to watch them four days a week. I love my kids. I don’t care about how much child support I pay. I just do what I do because I want the best for them and I want to see them taken care of.

Strangely, even if I could tell all those people at Angel Falls that I love my children and pay more than I should in child support. Even if they could see that I’m doing as best I can despite the sin I committed, if they could see that I’m doing right by Angelica, even though I hurt her and that we are getting along better now that we ever did, they wouldn’t care. People judge by unfair standards.

And I used to as well. We all do.

We judge by the standards that we set up for ourselves. But that’s not right.

There are only two things that ultimately matter. First, we will only and always be judged by the standards that God has set up for us. And secondly, that we see ourselves through the eyes of Christ.

Are you seeing yourself through Christ’s eyes? Or are you overjudging yourself? Are you your worst critic? Do you give yourself the harshest treatment possible and then slink into a corner? Christ doesn’t do that. He gives us grace when we repent. He approaches us with mercy and love, forgiving us of what we have done.

On the contrary, it’s quite possible that we are underjudging ourselves. We think we’re better than anyone else. We are prideful, full of ourselves and think that nothing can defeat us. In that case, nothing will get through to us but an eventual downfall. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

So, when I get pulled over again someday for speeding, I could argue. I could argue that I was going under the speed limit. But it won’t matter. All that matters is the radar detector on the officer’s dashboard.

And all that matters is God’s law. The law that we can love or hate. But it doesn’t matter whether we love it or hate it. It is what it is. And our heavenly Father gives it out with compassion, love and mercy – but it is just at the same time.

Being Snooty And Smug

I just got home from a business vacation with Cynthia. We went to a big city for a convention I had to attend. We spent a lot of time out shopping and having a good time.

It’s been a while since I visited a big city. This one is one of the largest cities in the United States and we had a blast.

We saw a decent number of homeless people and, of course, I had forgotten how insensitive I was in my thinking toward the homeless. We walked past them with shopping bags and food and I ignored them. Cynthia showed empathy several times but I was just hard of heart toward them most of the time.

We kept shopping – mostly for her – and she asked, “Is there anything you want?”

I said, “I really would like a pair of nice boxers to sleep in (too much info?)”

So we set out to find some nice boxers. We looked for a while and were sent down the street to some huge multi-level men’s store I’d never heard of.

We walked into the plush lobby and I should have walked out the second we walked in.

All of the sales associates were wearing suits. It looked like a grand cathedral. There were suits from wall to wall and most of them looked like they would set me back a month’s salary. But, I was on vacation and trudged ahead.

The guy in the suit who met us asked what we were looking for and sent us up the elevator to the second floor. More suits there. More sales associates in suits. And when we got off the elevator, everyone stopped and stared at us.

Now, listen. We were dressed casually. I was wearing khakis and nice shoes, and an American Eagle shirt. Cynthia was wearing a nice shirt and khakis. But we weren’t dressed like them.

A man stopped us and said, “Are you looking for someone?” Yeah. Not, “Can I help you?”

His question was meant to say, “You have no right to be here. You have no right to shop here. You can’t afford this place so leave now.”

But I’m too stupid to stop when I’m offended. I wanted to say, “Yeah, I’m looking for your sense of humor.” But I didn’t. I told him I was looking for boxers. He sent me toward a lady who led me over to a corner of the store.

She kept looking me up and down like I had leprosy. She wouldn’t let me touch the boxers. It was like I had a disease. I was lower class to them. I just said, “You know what? Don’t worry about it. I don’t see anything I like.”

We left. I was irritated.

I had some time to reflect on it for a while. Why was I so irritated? Because these people were middle-class, most likely, like me. And they weren’t any better than me. They waited on high class people, but they got snooty because I wasn’t good enough for them to wait on. It was about what “class I was in.” How dare they!

Oh, snap. Wait a second, I thought.

How had I been thinking about the homeless people earlier? I had seen them as below me and had been hard-hearted in my thinking toward them because of their “class.” Well, crud. I wasn’t any better than the people in the men’s store.

Let’s go a step further.

How about my post the other day about the SBC? Some took it the wrong way, I think. I’m not blaming the SBC for my fall. My point was that the resolution they voted on will really do no good in the end. However, the people that make up the SBC and the committees are just people. And if I’m wrong, it will be because I judge the people, not the group.

How about this? What about when people walk into our churches and they look a little different? They don’t act like us? They don’t fit into the cliques we’ve formed? What would your church do if an alcoholic showed up? What would your church do if a man fresh out of prison showed up? How would you feel? (I hope you would respond positively in all those situations – and many of you would.) But unfortunately, many don’t. And that’s about class – that’s about our snootiness and smugness.

Guess what? From members of the SBC, to those of us in church, to the people in the men’s store, to the homeless, we’re all human. Strip us all down to our boxers, and we’re just a bunch of vulnerable people in need of God’s love and mutual human understanding. But with our protective shields of piety and smugness on, we judge and look down on others. And that’s not how it’s intended to be. I’m guilty.

It’s innate in all of us and it needs to be fought against. And I was reminded of that when I wasn’t good enough to buy a pair of underwear this week.

When To Confront From The Pulpit

Just a disclaimer – I’ve done what I’m about to complain about. And I was wrong to do it. In fact, it grieves me that I did it. I learned from it when I did it and hope that others won’t make the same mistake.

So what exactly am I going on about?

In the past two weeks, I’ve heard about pastors who have heard there was adultery occurring in their church; instead of dealing with it in biblical fashion, or talking to those involved, they addressed the individuals from the pulpit. Once, it was done directly, and once it was done in a roundabout way so that everyone in the congregation knew who the pastor was talking about, but he didn’t mention any names.

Before I start making points, I’ll tell you about the 50 or so times I did it. I was arrogant. I thought I had the black and white truth and biblical authority to lash out against people. I thought the pulpit was my right to say what I wanted, when I wanted. Uh uh. Doesn’t work that way.

I’d hear about someone living together, having an argument with another church member, being stupid inside a committee meeting, or whatever, and I’d make a whole sermon point about it. I wouldn’t mention a name, of course, but I’d make sure they’d hear my point.

On one occasion, after the music director left after the deacon controversy, I preached a whole sermon out of anger. It was basically a “don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you” sermon. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t well received.

You know why it wasn’t right? First, because I was angry. Secondly, because if I had a problem, I needed to deal with it in private with the people I had a problem with. I used a bully pulpit to make a point to people and stirred the pot. I was airing dirty laundry that was personal business and I had no right to do it.

Does the pastor have the right to preach on adultery, anger, gambling, etc.? Absolutely. But in the course of normal preaching. Not when we’re using another person to make a point. Not when we’re showering down the Word of God on someone to lash out on them instead of going to them first.

It’s the misappropriation of the pastoral office, plain and simple. It’s the abuse of the Word and the pulpit. And it does harm to the congregation and those who have sinned. It doesn’t make the situation better, it makes it much worse.

You know what to confront from the pulpit? The enemy. Other church members are not our enemy. If a church member sins, we seek them out and restore them, plain and simple. If they don’t want restoration, we grieve the loss and pray for them wholeheartedly. We tell the church to pray for them.

But we never, ever air their dirty laundry. Because we might just find ourselves in their position one day. God help us all when we do.

Common Traits Of The Fallen Pastor, Part 3: Being Judgmental

(Make sure you read the disclaimer on the first blog post of this series before starting this one.)

The fallen pastors I’ve talked to as well as myself had a similar, serious issue. Before our falls, we were very judgmental of sinners. I’ve touched on this topic before, but I want to get to the heart of the matter here.

Before my fall, I was very black and white in my judgments. If there was an issue at hand, there was a black and white answer for it. There were no gray areas at all. If there was a sin or sinner in the church, there was a quick answer for it.

Let me give you an example that I’m not at all proud of.

Marlee was a long time member of Angel Falls Baptist Church. She had been previously married and divorced and I had been there when it had happened. Her first husband and she had divorced when he had become addicted to drugs and they had some serious issues. She had been unmarried for about two years at the time.

She started dating a guy up in Maryland named Rich who was an avid golfer. I hadn’t met him yet, but they seemed pretty serious about one another. One weekend, the gossip got to me that she was pregnant, out of wedlock, and was worried about her future.

The next weekend, she and Rich came together to see me after church. They were both nervous talking to me, but I wanted to show them understanding. I didn’t have the whole story, but I wanted to be a good pastor to them.

She started by telling me about how she was now three months pregnant. I took the opportunity to interrupt her.

“Marlee, believe it or not, I’m happy for you.”

The shock registered on her face. “You are?”

I said, “Yes, even though this child was conceived out of wedlock, you need to understand that no child is a mistake in the eyes of God. All children are a gift of God. No conception is ever a mistake.”

She smiled nervously. “But we sinned.”

I said, “Sure you did, but God forgives that sin. What’s your future together?”

“We’re living together,” Marlee said.

At that moment, in my life, there were few sins worse than two people living together. Cohabitation for me ranked right up there with murder and adultery (go figure). I could feel the anger rising up in every fiber of my being and I knew the black and white of Scripture had to be applied to their situation.

“Well, you can’t do that,” I said. “Either you get married or you don’t live together.” I was a little angry when I said it.

“Well, he lives in Maryland and has nowhere to go right now. He’s looking to move here so we can eventually get married and do the right thing, but we don’t have the money for it,” she said, now pleading.

“Sure you do. He can live with someone else in the family. You’re just making excuses,” I said. “What kind of example is this setting for your son you already have?” I was incensed. There was right, there was wrong, and I was bound and determined to make sure they understood it.

You see, I was pastor of this church. Impurity had set in and it had to be punished. It had to be disciplined. It had to be made right. I mean, really! Sin in the church! Out in front of everyone! Something had to be done – and the thing that drove me – the thing that drove me in those days was this – something had to be done that very minute.

She wouldn’t budge. I didn’t understand it. The holiness of God was at stake. The purity of the bride of Christ was at stake. She said they wouldn’t stop living together.

Unbelievable. I was bound and determined to take it before the deacons as soon as I could. Church discipline would be exercised upon her. I was angry because I couldn’t exercise it upon him since he wasn’t a member, but I’d have a talk with him too.

Do you see what’s wrong? My attitude at the time was so horrible. I rue those days. But at the time, I was so dang self-righteous. I thought I was right.

You want to know what? I was black and white right. I was.

Guess what? The people in John 8 were black and white right. The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They told him that she deserved to be stoned by the letter of the law. And you know what? By the black and white of the law, they were exactly right.

By the letter of the law, I was right. I could have taken that young couple and run them out of the church with discipline.

Those people in John 8 stood there with stones in their hand, ready to kill because of their overwhelming sense of justice. I was ready to punish because of my overwhelming sense of justice. I thought, “Sin is sin and it has no place in this fellowship!”

But there stands the Savior in John 8. He does not dismiss sin. He does not excuse sin. But He loves the sinner. He shows compassion. He loves on the sinner. He places himself between the sinner and every stone in the crowd. Then he turns to those of us who would judge and basically says, “You’re no better than she is. You’re just as big of a sinner as she is. And if you throw that stone at her, you’re throwing it at yourself.”

He would have taken every single one of those stones for that woman. And, in essence, He did at Calvary. He didn’t judge her that day. He showed compassion. A quality I lacked as a pastor. But because of my self-righteousness, I just wanted to judge. And I hate that I didn’t see it then.

You think I would have learned my lesson several years before when Cynthia and Barry walked into my office. They had been living together. Instead of getting to know them and finding out whether they were compatible, I insisted they get married. It led to a bad marriage. It led to a marriage put together hastily and for the wrong reasons. For one reason, because I only saw the black and white. And yes, I the wretch of a fallen pastor performed the ceremony. I even baptized Barry because he hadn’t had believer’s baptism.

Only after my fall from the pastorate do I see it. Only now do I see that people need time, grace, love, and patience to come to understand their sin. As well as strong Biblical counsel. There is certainly a place for that. When people fall and sin, they often need time and love the most instead of harshness and judgment.

I have heard that same lesson echoed from fellow fallen pastors.

What’s the worst? I’ve had seminary training. Years of experience in Southern Baptist churches. I’m supposed to be a Christ follower. A man who is supposed to know the balance between judgment and compassion. But back then, I didn’t.

On the other side of it, after being judged by others, I see the error of my ways. I see that no man has the right to judge another with harshness. Yes, we have the right to point out sin. We have the right to recognize sin. But no man has the right to sit in the place of judgment of another. Even when we do recognize sin, we must do so with the utmost care and love. We must do so with compassion and love, recognizing the sin in our own lives, realizing that none of us are any better than anyone else.

Pride does indeed come before a fall. I know that now.

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