Finding Meaning At The End Of Life

I’ve always believed that no matter how long or how short your life is, as long as you are drawing a breath, God will use it for His glory.

I saw it the other day in a dear friend. Those of you who know me well know who I’m referring to. An old friend who has been overcome with cancer. Those of you who have read my book or blog might know him as the church leader I first shared my infidelity with. He’s much more than that. He’s a father figure to me. He was one of the first church members to offer me unconditional forgiveness.

I remember the day I approached him, in his pole barn. It was a year after my adultery. I laid it all out on the line. I had even been mad at him for how things had gone after I got caught. But there I sat, humbled. He said finally, “Yes, I was disappointed. All I could think of was all of the good you could have done. But I forgave you a while back. I’m glad you’re here.” A few months ago, before we even knew he had cancer, I saw him and he wrapped his hard-working agrarian arms around me and said to me unexpectedly, “You know I’ve always loved you, don’t you?”

I grew up with a rocky relationship with my own father. When I met this man, he mentored me as a young pastor. He lead me in the right direction, give me a kind kick in the pants when I needed it, encourage me on the days when I must have looked frustrated, and he looked after my family. I remember the day my mother was killed in a car accident. The nurse came into the room where he, I, and another deacon were waiting. She asked, “Who is going to identify the body?” She was looking at me. I began to descend into a panic attack. He stood up without hesitation and said, “Can it be anyone?” She said, “Yes.” He said, “I’ll do it.” I wept. When he came back, he was crying.

When I heard about his cancer a few months ago, I went and saw him. It hadn’t slowed him down too much yet. But we found we had more to talk about. He said, “I wish I had a little more time. There are a few more things I’d like to do.”

I about lost it. I started coughing uncontrollably. I said, “Really?” (For this next part, you really have to have been sitting where we were.) I said, “Look around these eighty acres you own. You bought them from hard work at coal mining and bull dozing. Not only you live here, but you have made it so three other families can live on your property, including my ex-wife and your own daughter. You built a covered, wooden bridge. Really? I built a wooden bookshelf once. And it fell apart. You have done more in your life than most men could accomplish in two lifetimes. What’s more is that you love people from your heart. You are an amazing man that gives and gives and sets an example. I wouldn’t be sitting here if that wasn’t true.

He’s the heart of that little rural church. He was there the day the doors were first opened as a kid and he’s still the heart of it now. His heart beats for that place. If I could give you an example – there was an awful ice storm about four years ago here. The power was out all across the county. Except for two places – the parsonage and the church. We were the only church that had services that Sunday after the ice storm, dagnabit. But we were there. All eight of us. He led songs, I preached like I had a cathedral full of people whose hearts needed to be warmed. And it was enough.

He led the choir. And he did more than lead a choir – he led it with his heart. He had sang in a quartet for years and just loved to praise God and that’s pretty much what he did while leading that choir. Sometimes, when the music got to him, a tear would come to his eye. And that was the best kind of worship.

He loves his wife and daughter and granddaughter. They are the world to him. He would fight fiercely to defend them, work his tail off to provide for all of them, and yet a tear comes to his eye when he talks about any of them.

He loves people. If a man showed up at church, regardless of his story, who needed $20, he’d fish it out of his wallet and pray with him. He just loved people. He loved people like Christ told us to love people. And he didn’t do it because it was being dragged out of him or because it was legalistic. He did it because it was the nature of his heart.

Most of all, he loves his Savior. I told a lot of stories about him in this blog post to get to this point. Finding meaning at the end of life. He’s in extremely bad shape and I told him what I tell everyone at the end of life – “God has a purpose for each breath and every heartbeat.” Then I said to him, “Is there anyone you haven’t talked to that you want me to contact?” He whispered, “no.” He’s unable to talk, eat or drink. His esophagus is completely destroyed.

I guess he had a little time to think about my question, though. I showed up a day later and asked his wife, “How are the visitors? Anything new?” She said, “He had me call two people up here who haven’t been here. He witnessed to both of them even though he can hardly talk. He gave one of them his bible. Both of them left crying.

I got choked up. Every moment we have in this life is worth something. Every breath we draw, even in suffering, is worth the glory of God. My friend won’t be around much longer, but I know he loves his Savior enough to make the best of it. He looked at me about a week ago. He’s not able to swallow the ice water that is given him. It can’t make it’s way to his stomach. He has to suction it back out.

He looked at me and said, “I’d give a million dollars to drink a glass of water. But soon I’ll have my fill of the living water.” Yes you will. Yes, you absolutely will. I said to him, “I don’t envy you right now, but soon, I will heartily envy you and your position right next to Christ.” He smiled and we shared a tear together.

Thank you, Lord, for a friend like that. A man like that who showed me forgiveness, kindness and the model of what a father should be. May we all remember and learn, especially if we end up in the same circumstances one day.

Is Forgiveness For The Remarried Wishful Thinking?

There’s a question that keeps bombarding me from time to time. Usually, it’s shrouded in some level of judgmentalism, but sometimes, and surprisingly, it comes with an honest heart that seeks an answer.

How can anyone who has committed adultery and left their spouse to marry another ever be forgiven by God? The fact that they are now married to another person shows they are unrepentant and due to Christ’s command in the Sermon on the Mount, they are actually living in perpetual adultery.

It’s an interesting statement and something I’ve pondered, to be sure. You better believe I’ve thought about it. So have thousands of people who are now living in divorced relationships that didn’t necessarily come as a result of adultery. What is the evangelical answer to more than half of the population? “Well, I’m sorry, but you’re living in perpetual adultery. You’re out of luck.”

For some, that is the answer.

Let’s face the facts first. Adultery is a sin, horrible in the eyes of God. Divorce is a sin. It is not God’s plan for the married couple. I have no “but” or “however” to place here. Those are the facts of Scripture. I’m not going to make an excuse. That’s just it.

I don’t believe that those sins are unforgivable. Once we’ve trudged on and made our decisions before the face of God and despite His Word, we have a lot to consider. If we’ve remarried and forged ahead, there’s little to be done. Someone will say, “You shouldn’t sin to expect grace to abound.” To be gracious to that statement, I will only answer that there are millions of marriages that fail. If Christian marriages were as great as they could be, partnered by Spirit filled people who were doing what they should, within a Spirit filled community, I surmise that we would have a lot less problems. But it is futile to throw stones when we don’t have a grasp of the situation.

We do know that people sin. We do know that we shouldn’t. And we do know that millions and millions of Christian people are divorced and remarried and probably want an answer to this question.

Has Christ really looked at us and said, “Sorry, you’ve locked yourself in this box of sin. There’s nothing I can do for you this time. Unless you’re willing to divorce the person you’re with now and go back to the other person, regardless of how much has happened since then. I just don’t think I can ever forgive you. Ever.”

No, you’re not beyond forgiveness. Did you commit adultery before your marriage that led to a divorce? Then repent. Seek out your spouse and reconcile. If it doesn’t happen, don’t keep committing adultery. Stop. Repent. Turn to God.

Did you and your spouse divorce for different reasons and now you’ve remarried? Did someone tell you that you’re an adulterer because you remarried? Well, I’ll tell you what. That may be the letter of the law as some see it, but even if it is the case, it’s a one time sin. Fall upon your face, cry out to Christ and ask for forgiveness.

As one man said, “You can’t unscramble the egg.”

When they cast the adulterous woman at the feet of Christ, He didn’t waste his time with those who judged her. He spent His attention and time on her. When He finally answered them, they were ashamed and went away. Finally He said to her, “Is anyone left to condemn you? Go and sin no more.”

The act of adultery, like any other sin, does not have to be a continual act. Regardless of what the world says, when we repent, Christ makes us clean, new, sanctified people. It’s over. Now, the world may have a field day with us, but that’s all garbage. What matters most is what our Savior sees in us. He did atone for all my sins. Even the ones I committed while spitting in His face, God forgive me.

Go, sin no more. Live a life pleasing to Him. He has taken away our guilt.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Mother’s Day: Hope Amidst Tragedy

May 8, when it falls on a Mother’s Day, does not hold much promise for my emotional state.

Seventeen years ago, my college roommate, Scott Cook, was killed in a car accident along with four other students on the way home from a mission trip on Mother’s Day. One by one, they fell asleep just a few miles out from the university. There were just a few days left in the semester.

That day changed a lot of lives, not just my own. He had not returned after our freshman year but had come back for my junior year. He was a changed man. God had called him to ministry and his life was changed. Scott’s life, and death, changed mine. Every year, I remember this day and celebrate his life, but still remember the sorrow that surrounded his death.

Of course, May 8th always falls around Mother’s Day. My mom died in a car accident in 2008 the day before Christmas Eve. Her death and the tragedy of it still resonates soundly in my mind and heart. She had come to live in this community after the divorce between her and my father in 2005 and was a part of my life. She was my best friend. Then suddenly, she was gone.

Mother’s Day weekend is typically not very good for me. And there are a lot of people across the country who feel the same way about it. People who have lost mothers, wives, sisters, or who have had other tragic losses and Mother’s Day is nothing but a grim reminder of what we don’t have anymore.

Sure, we have the promise of being reunited once again with our loved ones after death. We know that they rest with Christ. I get that.

But when I sat in church today, all I could remember were those days when Mom was a member of the church I pastored. Those great Mother’s Days when she was there.

We’d hand out the goofy little pens or books to the moms that probably got lost in couch cushions across the community, but I would always take Mom hers. I felt like a little six year old walking up to her with a flower I had just picked in the backyard. All I wanted to do is let her know I loved her. To tell her “thanks, Mom, for all that you’ve done. I can never repay it, but you’ve saved me over and over. I hope I can make you proud someday.”

When I was in kindergarten, we made these necklaces for Mother’s Day one year. The teacher must have been looking to waste time, because looking back, they were an awful idea. But, man, I thought it was awesome. It was a string of paperclips put together with little pieces of wallpaper taped to each section of paperclip. I picked out some awful looking piece of wallpaper, but at the time, I thought it was cool. I took it home to Mom on Friday and gave it to her proudly.

Sunday came around and she was getting ready for church. I looked on the dresser and my pathetic looking necklace was lying there. Some of the pieces of wallpaper were already losing their tape. She was putting on a gold chain. I looked back and forth between the necklaces. Tears started welling up in my eyes.

“Mommy? Aren’t you going to wear my necklace?” Poor Mom. I swear for a second she thought about rolling her eyes, but she snapped that gold chain off and put my sorry looking wallpaper and paper clip monstrosity around her neck. And she wore it to First Baptist Russellville that Sunday.

Proudly. And I walked next to her proudly. Holding her hand and smiling. Because she was proud of me and what I had done.

We went to go see my sister the weekend before Mom died tragically. Mom’s mother had passed away decades before, but her mind was still filled with grief over her own mother as we celebrated the holiday. I didn’t know it at the time.

On the way back, we stopped at a Chili’s. The bill came and Mom grabbed it. I said, “No, Mom, I’m getting it.”

She said, “I’ve got it, Son. Let Mom take care of it. You’re always going to be my little boy. I’m so proud of you. I love you.”

Two weeks later I thought of that moment and wept like a baby. Even now while I think of that moment, the tears are hard to fight back.

So what can any of us do? Those of us who have sorrow this weekend? My roommate’s death weighs heavy on my heart again this year. Mom’s presence is on my mind. Eventually, her birthday will come, then the holidays, and I’ll be thinking about my father as well, who died in an accident.

Well, the best thing to do is listen to Mom. She loved to blog. That weekend that we went to visit my sister, when she got home, Mom blogged about her pain and missing her Mom. This was read at her funeral and has served me well since her death. She was a wise woman and her words ring true today, now, more than ever:

Saturday was one of those really tough days we have to endure as adults. Despite my personal heartache it was a time to have some laughter and to enjoy seeing my 3 granddaughters playing together. We went to visit Dave, MAC and Maggie for a few hours, to have some celebration of Christmas together and to enjoy fellowship; and although it was a day of deep personal hurt, the passing of my mother some years ago, I got through it pretty well.

Remembering those we love is expected, keeping on living in the moment is a necessity; blending the two is sometimes difficult. However, the sound of happiness and laughter is always welcome; even when the soul is weighed heavy with sorrow.

Love you, Mom.

The Practice of Love

The book in which I contributed an essay under my pseudonym, Arthur Dimmesdale is now out and available for purchase. The book is entitled, “The Practice of Love: Real Stories of Living Into the Kingdom of God.” My chapter is entitled “Fear and Loathing in the Pulpit.”

I’m very excited about this opportunity and even more excited about the compilation of other stories in the book. Here’s a description from the publisher:

“What would it look like to practice love? Published by Civitas Press, this non-fiction work asks, What would happen if we actively chose to engage a deep sense of love even in hard places? The possibilities include a love for God, a love for the self, a love for a neighbor, and even a love for an enemy. What emerges will inspire and challenge the reader to reconsider what it means to live out the practice of love in our daily lives.

At a critical time, when people are longing for something deeper than traditional religion, the practice of love offers readers an opportunity to explore a deeper element of faith, one that moves the individual beyond a safe and comfortable zone known as ‘the box’, and into something alive and real.”

While writing my essay, I actually went through a change. God humbled me and used my writing process to show me how prideful my heart still was even though I thought I had changed. He showed me that I actually hated myself and needed to see myself as He saw me.

I hope you’ll purchase it and enjoy the wide selection of writing within.

Even cooler? It’s available on Kindle.

Other authors have also written about their experience on their blogs:

Kathy Escobar: Loving God by Loving People

Anna Snoeyenbos:The Practice of Love: Real Stories of Living into the Kingdom of God

Idelette McVicker: Loving Myself, A Woman

Marian Struble: Practicing Love

Jake Kampe: The Practice of Love

Jeremy Myers: Grilling Your Enemies

Kara Maddox: The Practice of Love Reflections

Alise Wright: The Practice of Love

The Practice Of Love

I’m pleased to let you know about a book published by Civitas Press that is being released on May 1, entitled “The Practice Of Love: Real Stories Of Living Into The Kingdom of God.”

It’s a collection of essays about people practicing the love of Christ. I usually don’t recommend books to you, but I have a selfish motive for this one.  I wrote an essay for it.

I’ve been spotty in my posting lately because I’ve been doing some writing on the side. My mother was an author and I remember the process she had to endure to get books published. She’d send off manuscripts and query letters by the dozens to only get a barrage of rejections, but she’d press forward.

For me, in this information rich age, the process was easier and I thank God for His mercy and the people at Civitas. I made a comment in a post one day about writing and was contacted the next day by the editor at Civitas Press. They have a heart for writers and good writing. Jonathan Brink, the editor, has made me into a better writer with a lot of input.

I was asked to write a submission on what it means to love oneself. At first, I inwardly scoffed at the idea. I thought, “I love myself just fine, maybe too much.” But the request came at a time when I was struggling with reconciling with people I had hurt through my fall.

While writing my submission, I had a breakthrough and realized that I had spent a lot of time beating myself up over sins that God had already forgiven me for. I realized that Christ loved me despite my sin and that He had freely forgiven it. On the other hand, I still hated myself for what I had done. That was the basis for my essay.

I hope you’ll buy the book which is available through the publisher and will also soon be available on Amazon. Either way, thank you for taking the time to be a faithful reader.

God’s Answer For The Adulterer

For the past year and a half I have been beating my head against the wall over a theological point.
I love my wife, Cynthia. I have an astonishing love for her. I would lay down my life for her. I wouldn’t change a thing about my love for her. What we have is real, amazing and I have always wanted a marriage like this.
At the same time, to get her, I broke God’s law – the seventh commandment – to have her.
My previous marriage to Angelica ended in divorce after she and I found no reconciliation, I alienated and did horrible damage to my former congregation, I did disastrous harm to relationships within my own family, I hurt friendships with other pastors and those I have known for years, and tarnished my name within the community.
And above all else, my sin – the sin of adultery – was one among many of my sins – that sent Christ to His death on the cross at Calvary.  God’s only Son died for that sin.
I will be horribly and terribly honest with you. And I’ll even phrase it in the way that my current pastor said it. I sinned willingly and boldly in the face of God and stuck my middle finger in His face and said, “I don’t care what you think, I don’t care what your Word says, I’m doing this anyway.”
And I’ll even go a step further. I love Cynthia. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.
Don’t get me wrong. I still suffer from the pain I caused my God and the people I hurt. But I have the love a husband should have for His wife.
Under the watchcare of my current pastor, I feel I have repented and asked for forgiveness. I have gone to those who I have hurt and asked for forgiveness and received some of it.
Many of you who read this blog over the past year have called me out on some things. I’ve been accused of justifying my sin. At times, I have. And early on, I was attempting to.  
I’m sad to say it, but in a post on Bathsheba, that’s exactly what I was doing. 
Now, as God has humbled me, as time has moved on since my fall, I have been overwhelmed by His grace and have found some solace.
However, as a theologian, I have always been troubled by one question. A question that has kept me up at night. A question that bothers me and Cynthia. A question that has rattled around in my mind and will not go away and finally came to the surface as I prayed on the way home from work the other night.
I prayed, “Lord, thank you for Cynthia and her wonderful love. Thank you for the gift of her. I wouldn’t trade her for anything.”
But then I prayed, “Lord, what do I do about the sin I committed to get her? I’ve already confessed it? It is a slap in your holy face. Your Son died for the sin that I committed. I don’t feel like I deserve to be happy since my blatant, outright, stubborn, filthy sin led me to this point.”
It is a difficult problem. It is seemingly impossible. I finally had to tackle it to find peace.
How can I dare be happy with her while knowing I committed a vile sin to be in her arms? A sin that sent Christ to the cross to bear the wrath of God? A sin I committed while pastoring a church?
I shared this with Cynthia. She said, “What about people who have children out of wedlock? They sin and get to go on. It’s a sin yet they are happy to have the child.”
She made a good point. But in a lot of adulterous affairs, many end up reconciling. Angelica and I did not.
In my own mind and in my seminary trained brain, I have, for lack of a better term, been trying to reconcile or justify my happiness with Cynthia versus my transgressions of God’s law. It has not worked. It has failed miserably.
Then, I was struck with a thought.
It’s not really about how I see it. It’s not about how others view it. It’s about how God sees it. I have to go to the Word.
But even then I still have to be careful, lest I bastardize God’s Word to justify my sin. Too often, pastors (myself included), use God’s Word as a tool for justification instead of allowing it to speak for what it says.
So where do I begin? With my sin. Yes, without a doubt, I broke God’s law. There is no getting around it. I took into my arms a woman who was not my wife. I have no excuses. Regardless of the problems within my marriage, this was unacceptable to God.  Brad, my pastor, told me how he explains this to other pastors with whom he speaks about me.
He said, “Arthur committed a vile sin. He sinned knowingly and often. He and Angelica could not reconcile with one another. He did not decide to live a life of celibacy. Instead, he kept piling on sin upon sin in the face of God. He was wrong to do so. They married and found a church home. Arthur repented, began to humble himself and continues to do so.”
Friends, I’m no saint, that’s for sure.  I am a sinner to the core. I am a wretch who willingly broke God’s law, and as Brad says, I attempted to push God off His throne and make my own law on my own terms.
How do I begin to reconcile what my life looks like right now? How can I even begin to enjoy my happiness with Cynthia knowing that I am a vile law-breaker?
There is a simple answer. God has given me more grace than I deserve.
Let me quickly state what Paul told us. That does not give us the right to sin more so that grace may abound more. I get ill when people come to me (and it happens) and ask me if they should leave their spouse and commit adultery. My answer? NO! They say, “Well you did it.” My answer? “That doesn’t make it right.”
In spite of my sin, God gave me and Cynthia grace. Abounding, free and unfettered grace. Grace I didn’t deserve. When I sinned, I deserved the Ananias and Sapphira treatment. I deserved to be struck dead on the spot the second I began to think about adultery. But God didn’t do that. He was long-suffering and patient with me.
Did I suffer consequence? Yes. Did others suffer pain because of my sin? Unfortunately, yes. And I will think of that every day for the rest of my life.
But still, the question is not answered. How do I reconcile the two? My happiness with Cynthia and my breaking of God’s law and Christ’s suffering to be with her? The sovereigntist in me has been longing to reconcile these two!
Again, I was struck because of God’s Word.
I am a forgiven child of God. There is no reason for me to attempt to reconcile the two. God has already reconciled these two things for me. And all praise to Him for that.
He basically looked at me when He forgave me and said, “Arthur, I have forgiven and forgotten.” And each day when I remember it, agonize over it, and replay it in my mind and feel guilt, He reminds me, “You’re the only one bringing it up, I’ve forgotten it. It’s been covered by my Son.”
What a wonderful thing grace is. Undeserved. But so freely received by me.
Others may cast stones or try to label me, but Christ never will. God will not hold my adultery against me ever again. Even if I try to bring it up or drag myself down because of it, He never will. Know why? Because I am His child.
Friends, this grace is ours to have. It is ours to receive and worship Christ for. It is not there for us to engorge ourselves with sin so that we may have it. But it is there so that we may be cleansed from unrighteousness and live a holy life pleasing to God.
No one in this world, including myself, has a right to condemn me. I have been justified – not because of anything I have done – but because of what Christ did.
How do I theologically reconcile my current happiness with my sin against God? I don’t have to. I throw my theological musings out the dang door. My ivory tower theology has no room here. Only the love of Christ operates here.
There is no need to reconcile it theologically. Christ has reconciled the situation with His sacrifice – once and for all. That is my hope. That is my rock. That is my everything. 
I do not boast in my strength to get to this point. I do not boast in my cleverness, my education, my perseverance or my swagger. I boast in the grace of Christ which has completely covered my transgression and has said to me, “Your sin has been removed, now move on and live a life pleasing to me from this point forward.”
What now? I know exactly what the adulterous woman felt like in John 8:10-11. A woman who had been caught red handed in the act of adultery. A woman, who by Old Testament standards, deserved to be stoned. A woman who was shamed and didn’t have a friend in the world – except Jesus.  
He said to her something that I now understand when the people all dropped their stones and walked away.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.” (ESV)
Christ’s love and grace are overwhelming. Without them, I would still be trying to reconcile God’s wrath and breaking His law with my current happiness. Instead, I now understand His love toward me.
He didn’t give His son so I could commit adultery. He did give His son so that I could be set free from sin.
And now that He has forgotten and forgiven, now that He has humbled me, I can be free to be happy with Cynthia.

More importantly, I am happy to have a God who doesn’t give up on me and loves me for who I am.

Reconciling With A Fallen Pastor, Part 7: So How Do We Reconcile?

Yeah, part seven. I’ve been stringing it out a little, but I hope it’s been helpful.

I want churches to want to reconcile with their former fallen pastors. For the glory of our King. So that we might be reconciled to one another. So that no one is left behind, forgotten, or isolated in their sin.

So how do you approach a pastor who hurt you long ago? It’s not easy. There’s no easy way to do it and the path I’m suggesting is not fool proof.

1. Have your church leadership pray. There is no substitute for prayer, especially among the church leadership. And typically, where the church leadership go, the membership will follow. Typically.

2. Know that you’re going for the right reasons. I’ve mentioned it before but don’t go to fight old battles, settle old scores or make you feel better about yourself. This is about coming together with another child of God, fallen as we are, recognizing that we all sin, and loving each other as God loves us.

3. Go with a Philippians 2:3 spirit – Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (ESV) Love the fallen one you seek out. Only by knowing that we are less than those we are attempting to love do we ever begin to understand what Christ did for us.

Christ left the heavenly realm, lowered Himself and gave Himself for us. How can we ever esteem ourselves better than any other person on this earth when the most perfect being in the universe made Himself worse than us?

4. Find him and go. Should you call? Probably not. Listen, most people in the church don’t ever give a passing thought to what this man has done. But he thinks about it every day. Guarantee it. Church members forget until it gets brought up in conversation once a year. But he will never forget it. Every day he will be reminded of his transgression. It was his calling, his life. And he needs closure. Forgiveness. Just go. Show up. 

5. This may sound awful, but lower your expectations. That doesn’t mean expect the worst. It means put it in God’s hands. Don’t expect a Disney ending. Or Fireproof. Or any of those ridiculous low-budget Christian movies with unrealistic endings.

Instead, expect a man to be at the door who has been changed and challenged by a long life of unforgiveness. Don’t expect an immediate miracle. Just be ready to love. And be humble.

6. I would suggest you be ready to be the first with something so say. And that something be along the lines of, “We love you, we want you to know we’re sorry that things have gone this long and this far like they have. What will it take to reconcile?” Be ready to listen. When I say listen, I mean listen.

There’s a great line in the movie “Fight Club.” The main character is speaking to another character about how people don’t ever listen to you. He says, “When people think you’re dying, they really, really listen to you instead of just . . .” and she finishes his line by saying, “instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?”

When you visit your former pastor, listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Listen to his travails. His heartaches. If he even opens up to you. It may take more than one visit. You may have to invite him out to lunch. But listen. That’s how you reach out. That’s what Christ did. He listened.

Hopefully this will open the lines of communication so you may listen to one another and heal.

7. Make your church ready to openly and publicly forgive. Your current pastor may not know the whole story. Tell him from whatever angle he needs to know. I took a class at the SBC headquarters once – it’s called the Transitional Pastor course.  I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to be an effective interim.

Anyway, one of the roles of the transitional pastor is to help the church get over past hurts, even the hurt of a recent pastor. The class I took recommended making a timeline of the events of the church and putting blue post-it notes for bad events and yellow post-it notes for positive events.

Church members could all put as many post-its on the timeline for as many events as they could remember in the life of the church. However, only the positive events were shared out loud. At the end of the sharing time, all of the events were taken off and the transitional pastor said, “What is the future Christ has for us?”

The current church, with its current pastor, has to prepare for contacting its past pastor. Old wounds will reopen. However, that also means that resolution to those wounds will come. Old pains may come to an end. Even if the old pastor spits in your face, you tried as Scripture asked you to try. And a new beginning will come.

8. Don’t give up after one try. You may get a teary eyed former pastor your first visit who embraces you. Good for you. You may get resistance. Don’t give up. Let me ask you this – if it were you who were in trouble, would you want people giving up on you? Even if you go again, keep praying. It is God who will work on his soul and heart. And don’t gossip. It’s between you and him.

9. If all works out, rejoice. All of the glory belongs to God. It should have happened long ago. We are called to reconcile quickly and bring the weaker brother in when he falls. However, if you are able to reconcile, don’t sit on it. Tell others quickly. Tell other churches whose pastors have fallen. Don’t let them stay unreconciled with their former pastors. Let us quickly reconcile with one another.

I write this blog and these things to you so that you and your former pastor may have the hope of reconciliation. I write these things hoping that Angel Falls will one day have a relationship with me. The same relationship we had before? No. But one at least of Christian love, brotherhood, and of struggle side by side, and not against one another, in this world.

Face To Face With My Old Church

It’s been a long 24 hours, friends.  
Without going into detail, last night Cynthia got very sick. I was extremely concerned about her. She turned out fine, but there may be health issues ahead for her. For about a three hour stretch in the emergency room, I thought life might change forever. Thanks be to God for His mercy.
On Monday (or Tuesday) I’ll resume my series on reconciliation.
Today, Cynthia and I attended the funeral of an Angel Falls Church member. My current pastor, Brad, offered to go with us. We took him up on it. The church member was an older gentleman who meant a lot to me and was very close to Phillip Townsend, who I have recently reconciled with.
I knew that if we went to the funeral, we would be seeing several former church members that we had not seen since my fall. Angelica knew we would be there, but there is no animosity between us, as I have mentioned before. Our only reason for going was to mourn and show support for Phillip and his family.
Phillip, his wife, and daughter have been very supportive of me recently. When this gentleman got sick, they told me that I was one of only two people to visit him in the hospital. They were very appreciative of that. I didn’t do it to get attention, but out of love for this man and for the family.
I wasn’t sure how today would go, but Cynthia and I were very nervous. In the back of my mind, I suppose I expected the worst, but I also hoped for the best. Part of me hoped it would build some sort of reconciliation between me and some of my former church members. But all I could do was put it in God’s hands and let things be.
When we arrived, I signed in and saw Phillip. I greeted him and we found a seat. I didn’t make eye contact with any of my former members. I chose not to because the funeral wasn’t about me and them, it was about the dear departed gentleman. Cynthia did tell me that she could see several of the former members out of the corner of her eye staring at us. 
When I glanced around, I knew she was right. There were about 20 in attendance and about six of them had their eyes fixated on us. I chose to talk to Brad about matters at our church. I held Cynthia’s hand and talked to her some before the funeral started. Phillip’s daughter came over and hugged me and thanked us for being there. His wife came by and spoke to us as well.
The funeral was short but well done. After it was over, of course, we were the first to be ushered through the line. I gave my condolences to the family then shook hands with “the new guy” who hugged me in front of everyone (his career is over), and the interim, who surprisingly hugged me after I told him he did an excellent job.
We left quickly and went to our cars. 
We talked on the way home. In our conversation, I came up with some simple thoughts. I still love those people. They’re just people. I love them. Even the ones who just stared at me in disgust. I wish I could wrap my arms around them and love them. I wish I could tell them all that I’m forgiven and that Christ loves them just like He loves me. But I’ve forfeited that right.
They’re in good hands with the new guy, I think. His prayer was beautiful.
I was proud to be with Cynthia today. Our love, our marriage, while hated by many, is what gets me through the tough days. I love her with all my heart. Even Phillip said some nice things to her. She’s such a beautiful woman. Yes, we sinned. But God loves both of us and has broken our hearts and enabled us to love others in a great way.
I want to be able to let the people of Angel Falls know the reconciling love of Christ that I couldn’t show them when I was pastor. Maybe soon. I’m not giving up.

 

Reconciling With A Fallen Pastor, Part 5: Reconciling An Old Wound

What do you do when the pastor in question fell some time ago and you may want to reach out to him now?

Do it. The longer time goes on, the harder you will find it to reach out and heal that wound.

There are many variables involved and I’m sure I’ll miss some. But know this – it’s not a perfect process. It just matters that you do it with the right spirit and attitude.

Whether the break between your church and fallen pastor was one year, ten or 20 years ago, wounds will be reopened. That’s natural.

In my last post I discussed why churches and fallen pastors should reconcile. But the how isn’t quite as easy, especially when a lot of time has passed.

Before you go, get your motives right. Go with an Ephesians 4:1-3 attitude: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (ESV)

Go to your former pastor out of love – NOT to settle the matter, not to fight, not to dredge up the past, not to hash out what went wrong, but to love and be reasonable.

Let me say something very important about fallen pastors. Don’t always expect a miraculous response. You may not know where he went after the fall. He may be doing well. He may be doing very miserably. He may have moved on or he may have become a very bitter, cynical man. He may welcome your contact or he may question your motives.

It may be that he does not respond well to your coming at first. But it may be that your initial approach is what God uses to begin to work in your former pastor’s life to renew his spirit as well.

You may be tempted to think, “Well, he’s the one who sinned.” That’s right. He is. And every day since, he has paid for it. Through public scorn. Through the scorn of fellow pastors. But worse, he has beaten himself up for it.

Some think he deserves it, but Christians, he does not. He deserves the grace and love of Christ every bit as much as you do. His sin hurt you to the core, but Christ covered his sin at Calvary just as He covered yours. I can almost guarantee that your former pastor craves the forgiveness of God and your public forgiveness like you can’t imagine.

Trust me. I know.

It may be that since his fall, he has said or done things that make him look like an unbeliever. He may have acted like a complete fool or done things you dislike. To this, I say, if it were you who had acted as such during his tenure as pastor, he likely would have chased after you in love. And if that was not his character, the Christ would have pursued you. And we are to be like Christ, after all.

What I’m proposing – reconciliation with a fallen pastor – the man who hurt you, your family, his family, embarrassed your church before the community, is not an easy thing. But ultimately it is very Christlike. Christ pursued us and bore the wrath of our sin and asks us to forgive likewise.

I’d like to propose to you a plan for reaching out to your former pastor. First, remember this. Your church put together a pulpit committee, selection committee or whatever your denomination does. That committee, under the divine guidance (hopefully) of God called that man to be pastor.

Your church voted, probably overwhelmingly and he served your local fellowship. God does not make mistakes. However, people do. At the same time, we know from Romans 8 that God is sovereign in all things. We also know that He is not the author of sin, but He works all things together for His glory.

Your pastor fell, for whatever reason, and despite what you believe about God’s sovereignty, God had called this man to your church.

the fall of a pastor is devastating. It can destroy a man. You’ve seen the way the national media drags nationally known pastors through the mud for adultery. When it happens in the local church it happens on a smaller scale.

One would think this would be the time for Christians to surround a fallen Christian in love and mercy. But too often, the fallen pastor is scorned and run out of town on a rail. Why? Because he has harmed the church.

A pastor friend told me once the church acts like a scorned woman when a pastor falls. That comment is dead on. I don’t blame the church for this. It is understandable. However, there needs to be a race at some point to move beyond hurt and reconcile.

That does not mean that the hurt is not still there. That does not mean that the relationship between church and fallen pastor is the same. It simply means that we are able to forgive as Christ forgave us.

In my next post, I’ll give some specific guidelines on how to do exactly that.

Reconciling With A Fallen Pastor, Part 2: Stages Of The Fall

In my last post, I talked about prevention. However, most people who find my site are those who want advice after their pastor has fallen morally.

Please take the time to read the first post in this series because it will give you some insight into my thinking. I’m not an expert in the academic realm. I do have a Master of Divinity, however, it does make me an expert on pastors who fail their congregations. I do, however, have a world of experience on the side of pastors who fall. I have spoken to many pastors who have fallen morally and I am one myself.

Let me begin with this – if you’re a church member who is reading this who is asking, “how can I reconcile with a fallen pastor?” I’m glad you’re here. At least you’re trying. Or if you’re asking, “How can I minister to a fallen pastor?” or “after a pastor falls, how do you forgive him?” I’m happy you’re asking the right questions. You’re far ahead of the curve.

The vast majority of church members are happy to turn the other way, push the fallen pastor to the wayside and let him fall as far as possible. Part of me sees the rationale behind this. I get it. If it were the local architect, plumber, bug guy, or Wal-Mart employee who committed adultery, no one would care.

For that matter, if any of those people were in the church, some uproar would come, but it would settle down quickly.

But much is expected of the pastor. He stands up week after week, strong protector of the Word of God, preaching against the evils of the world, and expected to stand strong against everything that is wrong with society. But then he falls.

Parents have to explain to their children (whom were baptized by that man), members have their hearts broken, relationships are harmed, the pastor’s wife has to be sheltered, and it’s all because the pastor apparently has a sexual issue, right? Of course, few stop to think that there is more to the story. But that is beside the point. He is now an outcast.

What are we to do with this man?

On a rare occasion, there is a deacon, or a church member who asks, “Shouldn’t we love this man? Is he not a sinner like us?” But this is a rare instance. Most of the time, the pastor is cast out.

Those are questions to be dealt with later.

For now, I will insist that early intervention by members of the congregation who are brave, loyal to Christ, and able is absolutely necessary. It has to happen within the first two weeks. Period. Whether it be a member of the church or a close pastor friend, it has to be done. It is absolutely vital.

I’ll get more into why it is vital in the next post. For now, I’m going to propose to you my five stages of pastoral moral failure. It’s not perfect and someone else may want to improve on it. But after talking to a lot of pastoral rejects like myself, I recognized that many pastors go through stages of “grief” after they fail.

If they do not get intervention from pastor friends or church members, it seems very likely to me that they are doomed to fail and slack off into complete moral failure. Even losing their faith. I will discuss in the next post why early intervention is so important.

All of these stages are after the fall.

Stage 1:(Days 1-2) Cautious Defense – Right after the fall, just like any sin, it is easy to want to defend yourself. You want to have a reason to give for what you did. You know that no one will listen to you, so you’re not ready to give reasons for your sin. However, you slink away to whatever corner of the world that will have you. You’re not really ready to repent, but will give the right words for repentance if someone asks. But no one ever does. Because no one wants to talk to you. Everyone is angry.

Stage 2: (Day 3-Week 2) Embarrassment – People begin to find out what you did and the details. They begin to find out the “why” and “what” after talking to your spouse and the people involved. They don’t want to talk to you because they don’t want your side of the story. They are hurt, they are disappointed and they want to push you as far away from them and their family as possible.

As one pastor said to me, “Everyone needs someone to love and someone to hate.” The pastor is who they need to hate. The spouse who has been harmed is who they love. The spouse left behind, regardless of whether they led to the deterioration of the marriage becomes the hero. They can never do any wrong from this point forward. The pastor becomes the goat forever. The fallen pastor, if or when he goes into public, often hangs his head low, avoiding eye contact. This is an awful time.

Stage 3: (Week 3-?) Offensive Defense Against the Perceived Enemy – Anger builds within the pastor. He feels that no one wants to hear his story. The church that he pastored for years will not listen to him, despite the fact that he labored and loved them. He knows he betrayed them, but he needs them to hear his side of the story. He knows his story would fall on deaf ears. However, some in the church will lash out in emails, Facebook messages, text messages, or letters. The pastor becomes like a poisoned frog. He will not seek out church members, but when they contact him, he will respond in anger. Sometimes with passive aggressiveness.

I have several cats. When they eat a toad, the toad coats himself with a semi-poisonous venom. This is a picture of the pastor who feels isolated by the church. He becomes aggressive when attacked directly by those in the church. If they call, email, or Facebook, he will often respond in a negative way and go on the offensive. He has loved them for years, has harmed his church and his wife, but now just wants to be loved as he loved those who sinned when he was pastor. But no love is to come.

Stage 4: The Edge (not to be confused with U2’s guitarist) – This is a horrible place. I have talked to pastors on both sides. It is a place where some turn to drugs, alcohol, and other vices to fill their lives because they fill a void. Others fight through, looking for God in a long struggle. It is an awful time either way. Either way, pastors feel alone, afraid, and like no one is there to help them. They feel as if they have forsaken their God, their calling, and they feel alone. The community of faith they have built up has forsaken them because they sinned. They now feel like they deserve the treatment they are getting from their former church.

Often, they equate their former church to God. Those who do, turn to alcohol or vice. Those who turn to God struggle daily to find good things in life. Either way, it is hard. Many on the outside think that either way, these men deserve the treatment they get. But they don’t. All of these men deserve the grace and forgiveness of God.

Stage 5: Hardening vs. A Second Chance – Those who choose vice often stay there. That is awful. However, some eventually, like the prodigal son, find grace again. Typically, those who choose to harden their hearts find self-hatred and those who seek a second chance find grace and choose to see themselves as God sees them.

In my next blog, I will tell you – the church member – why your love, your forgiveness, your grace, your mercy – early in this process is vital. I did not receive it from my church. I did receive it from a pastor friend. Without it, without the love of Cynthia, without the grace of Christ, I would be lost today.

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