Pastors Need Comfort, To Avoid Disaster

(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 conducted an interview recently with Joy Wilson, author of “Uncensored Prayer.” I asked her a question that has been haunting me. When I wrote, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” I never looked back and thought it was incomplete. But I asked Joy the following question: “In hindsight, is there a message you wish you could have added to the book?”

Since I asked that question, I have been consumed by it. I wish I had added something to my own book. Pastors are very needy people. They need comfort, just like everyone else. If their comforts are not being met, it can become a dangerous place for the enemy to step in.

When I say comfort, I don’t mean that pastors need to be pampered 24/7. I’m not talking about the idea that trouble will come and pastors need to face them. Let me explain.

Tonight, my lovely wife Allison and I went to a local diner after a funeral visitation. Usually, when I go to a small mom and pop diner, I won’t even crack the menu. I will simply ask the server, “What is the best thing you’ve got?“At this restaurant in Crofton, Kentucky, they had three pages of meals that all looked really good to me at the moment. But I knew that there was something there that they did really, really well.

Our waitress paused and said, “The open faced roast beef sandwich. It’s served with a side of mashed potatoes and covered with gravy.”

I said, “l’ll have that.” Know why? Because her recommendation was more than just what they did best. It was something she had eaten. It was comfort food. It was food for the soul. And my goodness, when it came, it fed my soul.

I was suddenly reminded that pastors need comfort. A lot of people who read this won’t like what I have to say in the next few paragraphs, but it is important if we are going to change this culture. A culture in which I fell. A culture in which 1,500 pastors a month are leaving the ministry, many due to moral failure.

Pastors work in high pressure situations, regardless of the size of their churches. Much is asked of them. Many of these men see the ministry as an extremely high calling, and they should. Unfortunately, many of these men sacrifice time with their families and wives to do the work of ministry because of overly high expectations placed on them by their churches or by themselves.

They have no comfort. Some, over time, seek out comfort through a quick fix of pornography. Some, whose marriages are deteriorating because of ministry, look elsewhere. That may come as a shock to some. The pastor shows up on Sunday with his lovely wife, his beautiful children – some people think, “I wish my family was like that.

But what many people do not realize is that the pastor’s home life is in shambles. His home life and marriage is in awful shape. Why? Because he has laid out everything in pursuit of the ministry.

In his mind, he has justified it all. He thinks he is doing the work of God. He visits the sick, attends deacons meetings, preaches the word, evangelizes the lost. But over in the corner, the relationship with his wife and family is fading and he doesn’t realize it.

He comes home from a bad day and tries to talk to his wife, only to see that she has become alienated from him. It is his fault. It is their fault. There is no comfort. So he seeks comfort elsewhere,wrongfully, sinfully. Through porn. Through lust. And maybe though an inappropriate relationship nearby.

Friends, what I am telling you is that pastors need comfort from home. From their churches. Just like those fried chicken home cooked meals mom used to fix. Pastors cannot be expected to extend themselves out on the church field and forget about the most important mission field – their family.

Comfort, the greatest and best comfort comes from home. Don’t extend your pastor so much that he can’t have the touchstone of relief from his wife and children.

When I was writing my book and interviewing fallen pastors, the most common traits of a fall were so obvious. The expectations were too high, they were isolated from having real relationships, there was too much conflict over silly things and they had lack of intimacy with their spouses.

Each of these things beg for comfort! The pastor needs friends, real friends who will comfort him! He needs a church body and leadership who will be able to discern what is really important – the preaching of the Word, not what color the carpet will be. He needs people in the congregation who understand him as a fallen sinner, like them, who has weaknesses. He needs them to be comfortable with his strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

Finally, he needs time at home to be comfortable with his wife and family. Most pastors get a day off during the week. But when I talk to my current pastor friends, they still get calls from the church on their days off. Pastors need time one on one with their wives. To bond, to heal. The ministry is, unfortunately, a battlefield. It doesn’t just involve the pastor, it involves his whole family. Give him time to nurture his family. To date her. To spend sweet emotional time with her, to forget the travails of the church for a few hours.

It’s funny as I write this, my power is out. I’m writing this on my iPhone as storms are wreaking havoc across the county where I live. Understand this: pastors who do not have adequate support and comfort are absolutely powerless. Yes, they are to look to Christ for all power, but He has given us the church to support one another through all things. None of us is in this alone.

Pastors across America need comfort time. And they need their churches to be proactive in giving it to them. It’s one positive step in ensuring we don’t have more fallen pastors.

Is Repentance Possible For A Fallen Pastor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sins of Bobby Petrino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Congressman Weiner and the Fallen Pastor

Let me get something straight first. I hate politics. Can’t stand them. I stopped watching the news about six years ago. I do keep track of current events and know what’s going on.

That being said, I’m intrigued by the story and today, the confession of New York Congressman Andrew Weiner. I’m not going to recall the story here because it’s all over the Internet. If you don’t know the story, get to Googling.

Even before I fell, I’ve said that there are two jobs in this country that look a lot like pastoring: politicians and coaches. Coaches take the field with a team, they make decisions, and the win or loss is put on their shoulders, regardless of the player’s performance. Being a certified athletic trainer and spending a majority of my time with coaches, I can tell you this is true. They endure complaints from parents, the public and people who think they can do the coach’s job better – just like a pastor. And deep down, all the typical coach wants to do is help the kids.

Politicians, on the other hand, are a little different. We think of them as sleazy people who are out for themselves. Sure, some of them are. We typically only take notice of them when they mess up. For a majority of the time, however, they are standing firm for the convictions of their constituents, even if you didn’t vote for them. Tough job, I wouldn’t want it.

Now, to Congressman Weiner. He’s apparently been “sexting” several women over a long period of time. He got busted and lied about it. Scripturally, it’s a sin to lie and to lust. He needs to repent. I don’t know what his relationship is with God or Christ.

I also know that with Congressman Weiner, most people either love him or hate him. He’s a very polarizing figure. He’s passionate. For the first time in years, I actually tuned in to cable news programs tonight to watch the coverage. Glenn Beck (who I have my own private angst toward) was in a silly, celebratory mood over Weiner’s fall. Chris Matthews, a leftward-leaning commentator, denounced Weiner’s problems over and over. The Congressman is in a terrible place.

I watched Congressman Weiner’s entire press conference. I also watched the political pundits tear it apart. And I was reminded of what a sinner I am.

Congressman Weiner sinned. He stood up today in front of the press, after speaking to his wife (Lord knows how that will turn out) and said he was responsible. He reminded me of myself and all of the fallen pastors I’ve ever spoken to.

When we sin, there comes a time when we get caught. Our sin will always find us out. Always. He said so many things that resonated with me. He said he was embarrassed, that he lied to cover up his guilt and shame, and that he wanted to do the right thing by taking responsibility.

I don’t want to praise the man’s sin. He’s being hammered by the left for taking the press conference into his own hands. But I think he was right to apologize. When I saw him apologize, I really, really believe he was remorseful and sorry for what he had done. Guess what? When any of us ever get caught red-handed in a big way, we’re gonna be sorry we got caught. And, if we’re human, we’re going to begin to understand the hurt we caused.

Like myself and the many fallen pastors I’ve talked to, Congressman Weiner is in a dangerous place this early. He’s very sorry. He’s sorry for the hurt he caused his wife. He’ s sorry for the hurt he caused his family. He’s sorry for embarrassing himself. He sounded a lot today like a freshly caught fallen pastor.

I wish I could have about thirty minutes with him. Because if I did, here’s what I would tell him (besides finding out what he has done with Jesus Christ):

“Congressman, it’s fresh, it’s new. I know you’re sorry, but you need to be sorry for the right reasons. This isn’t going to be over anytime soon. Fix yourself, fix your marriage. I know you hurt because of getting caught, but realize that this process is going to take a very long time. You’re a human. That means you’re a sinner. The worst thing you can do at this moment is what most people do – retreat into a defensive posture of pride. Don’t attack those who want to harm you. Just realize that you’ve messed up and that people will be hurt. Be patient and ready to do what you can to make things right. Not for political gain, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

I hope you’ll pray for Congressman Weiner, his wife, and the women he talked to. This life isn’t about politics. It’s not about a man who has strong convictions for his party. It’s about a man’s soul. And he has a chance to learn what is right.

Just like I did.

(By the way, Congressman Weiner asked for forgiveness. I hope that those to whom he apologized will forgive him if they are Christians. When I apologized to people, I just wanted to hear people say, “I forgive you.” It never materialized from most people. Don’t “forgive people in your heart,” give them the words to hear so they can heal.)

My Weird Dreams And A Hope For Reconciliation

Dreams. They’re weird for me. Always have been. I don’t have normal ones. Maybe you do. If you do, you’re lucky.

I’ve got several theories about how they work and I’ll get to them in a minute. Theory means that I don’t have a clue why or what dreams are.

I have several recurring dreams that have nothing to do with this blog post – or do they? I dream about midgets on occasion. Or little people. Apologies if I’m using the wrong terminology. Typically, they come bearing advice or I’m having a casual conversation with them.

I dream about driving off the road a lot. I’m usually at a busy intersection and for some reason, I just let go of the wheel and the car goes off into a tree or a ditch. I either wake up, or survive the wreck and steer back onto the road.

The worst dream I ever had was when I was five. I’ll never forget it. I watched from my room as Santa (who was coincidentally a midget) walked into my parents room and poisoned them with a green gas he sprayed from a garden sprayer. He did it while looking at me and smiling. Yeah, it was not good.

Lately, I’ve been dreaming that I’m in the right place at the right time to stop a crime. Like an accidental superhero. That’s about as positive as my dreams ever get. If I’m really, really lucky, I won’t dream at all.

However, ever since I committed adultery at Angel Falls which led to broken relationships with my ex-wife’s family and the whole church, I’ve been having awful dreams. I have them just about every night. In each dream there’s a church member or a member of Angelica’s family. I typically dream of church members, almost always Phillip Townsend. When I first started having the dreams, I’d be arguing with them or they’d yell at me. At times, they’d stand there and stare distainfully at me.

As time has gone by, the dreams have gotten “happier”, if you will. For instance, recently, I dreamed I was standing outside a grocery store renting movies from a Redbox. Up walked one of the deacons and his wife. They started talking to me with kindness. Behind them were another deacon and his wife and several other couples from church. Each couple was nice, but somewhere, deep in my heart I knew two things: One, they were shocked at running into me and didn’t really like me. Two, I was ashamed of myself still and wanted to run away. So it wasn’t a happy dream at all.

I’ve actually run into one of the deacons in my dream recently. I went out of my way to talk to him. We made small talk and it was okay. I had my girls with me. He was uncomfortable, but I felt a little better about being seen in public.

The dreams are getting old. What’s my theory? I think that when we sleep, our unconscious mind works through things that our conscious mind pushes away. Sometimes, it presents them as a weird picture. Sometimes it’s frightening. But our minds don’t rest. I think that our minds are wanting to work free of the stress that we place on ourselves and they try to unwind at night. Is there a portion of it where God is at work? Sure, God is sovereign over all things.

So, late last week I got sick of it. That, and I got humbled after talking to the man who will probably be our new pastor. I’ll blog about that later.

I made a phone call to one of Angelica’s brothers. I apologized to him for what I did to her and the drama it caused to their family. I told him I knew that he had to explain it to his young children and humbled myself to him. He received it graciously. I knew I could call him because he’s just like that. The other members of her family probably wouldn’t answer the phone, so I wrote letters, including her parents. I told her what I was doing before I did it.

Today, I made a phone call. It was a hard phone call to make. Phillip Townsend. If you’ve read this blog at all, you know it was hard. I hurt Angel Falls with my sin and he didn’t handle the situation well either. However, if I hadn’t sinned, he wouldn’t have been in that position. We have some talking to do.

I talked to his wife for a few minutes and she was kind to me. He was out and she said he’d call back. So, I’m sitting here waiting for him to call back so we can meet. All I want is to show humility to him and put this behind us. Surely, two Christian men can do that for the sake of Christ.

And then maybe these dreams will go away.

Reflection: When The Good Is Forgotten

I want to take a quick break and write about something that has been on my mind since the day of my fall. It’s not an easy thing to write about.

It’s a consequence of my sin and a painful one that only pastors know. I’ve talked to other fallen pastors about it and they understand it.

I spent almost a decade at Angel Falls Baptist Church shepherding the people there. I was called there, I believe, by God. I was called to ministry – which was a powerful experience for me. I have no doubt whatsoever that I was where I was supposed to be.

I spent years there doing what a pastor should do – loving, praying, preaching and shepherding. But with one horrible sin, all of it was quickly forgotten. A consequence of my sin.

I know that not all of the church members probably feel that way. I get that. But sin is a terrible thing. It quickly wipes away so much of the good that has been built up.

Pastors do a lot that people see. The most obvious are the sermons we preach every Sunday.

I remember a friend saying once, “You sure get paid a lot for only working one hour a week.” Funny.

I had a seminary professor tell our preaching class once that for every minute we were in the pulpit, we should spend an hour in preparation. Well . . . I didn’t go that far. But I worked hard on my sermons. I put time, thought, and prayer into each one. They weren’t perfect, by any means, but most of them were out of love for God’s people.

I’d have the occasional sermon that was out of anger for the way I thought the people were acting. Pastors, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Those sermons almost always backfire. For the most part, I did good expositional sermons. The word “good” is used loosely.

Of course, my heart was hurt once when the music director accused me of stealing my sermons off the internet. That hurt. A lot. But I ignored it and moved on.

But pastors have a way of taking that stuff very personally. Because everything we do for the church is personal. We spend all week thinking about and praying for the church. We obsess about the church on a personal level. And we take the simplest comment and obsess about it for a long time.

At my small, rural church, I was in charge of just about everything. I ran VBS, the outreach program, half of the committees, and so forth. That was the stuff that was expected of me. I didn’t mind too much. I wished that the people had gotten more involved. But I guess it was part of leadership. I pushed myself way too hard at times. Part of it was that I have always been an overachiever. I’ll push myself until I’m exhausted.

I’ll never forget any of the kids I got to baptize. I’m so glad I got to baptize both of my kids while I was there. Two memories that will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life. I’ll always remember the others who came that wanted to talk about salvation, those who I witnessed to, those whom I baptized.

The kids who were ready for salvation – those were the ones I’ll always remember. I always cried. I was always so careful with them. I never wanted a “false conversion”. I wanted it to be apparent that it was the work of God and no one else for them.

Then there were the moments that no one else ever saw or ever heard of. The moments where I found myself asking, “Do pastors of megachurches have to go through this?”

Once, on New Year’s Eve, I was sitting in the living room. Angelica was in bed watching the New Year’s Eve countdown or something and someone pounded on the door. It was five minutes until midnight for crying out loud. I went to the door and it was a woman who had been to the church twice. She only came during VBS commencement. She was standing there shivering with her little five year old.

I brought them inside. Angelica wouldn’t come near the door, she stood in the living room and listened. The woman told me that she had a fight with her boyfriend and he was drunk and had gotten abusive. They ran from him and had to wade through a pond in the dark. They were soaked and freezing. I got them a blanket. They wanted a ride to a nearby town.

I told Angelica to call the police while I gave them a ride. I turned the heat up in the van all the way and talked to her and prayed with her the entire way as I dropped her off at her mom’s house. Her little girl wept for the first five minutes but I was able to calm her down.

Another time, about three weeks before Angelica found out about my sin, I got a call from the wife of a church member. He was distraught. He had wandered off into the woods and was going to hang himself.

I said, “What? Have you called the police?”

She said rather calmly, “I guess.”

I said, “You guess? Get on the phone right now and call them if you haven’t!”

I hung up and drove over to get Phillip Townsend. Fast. We went over to see if we could find the man. He and his wife had two years of serious marital issues. She was very unforgiving of his past. He had done some minor things about twenty years ago, but she wouldn’t let it go. She hounded and hounded him about his sin that he had committed two decades ago and he had snapped.

Phillip and I talked to his wife before going into the woods. The police hadn’t arrived. She said he might have a gun and that he was very upset. Great. We dashed off into the woods to find him. We finally did and he was very upset. Long story short, we talked him out of killing himself.

God gets all the credit for both of those stories.

The world is full of hurting, broken people whose lives are a breath away from disaster.

But now, I’m not in a position to minister to those people anymore. My sin disqualified me from taking care of that flock. And within me, as a former pastor, it hurts. It hurts that maybe, just maybe, there are those who will only remember that one sin instead of any glory that belongs only to God.

Don’t read this thinking I’m trying to get anyone to feel sorry for me. I’m not. Read this as a warning – all sin has dire consequence. It never leaves us unmarked. It leaves heavy scars upon the soul.

Christ heals those scars – all of them. But as humans, we remember them all.

If you’re engaged in any sin – gossip, pornography, self-righteousness, lying, deceitfulness, theft, anger, unforgiveness – they will all have their price upon your soul. No sin is free.

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