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.

The TMZ Attitude of the Church

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

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

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

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

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

What you will learn quickly is who your friends are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Pride – The Good Kind

Last week, I was in Kansas for my grandparent’s (my dad’s side) 70th wedding anniversary celebration. We had a good time. I got to see relatives I haven’t seen in a long time and they got to meet Allison for the first time.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know my Dad (nicknamed “Sandy”) and I had trouble getting along for a long time. We never quite saw eye to eye from my adolescence on. We had a terrible break down after he and my mother divorced, then he died from an accident a year before my Mom died in a separate accident.

We had a chance a couple of months before he died to have a nice lunch and we started a new relationship. After everything I’ve been through, I miss him a lot. He had a lot of trouble telling me he was proud of me. I don’t know why, I guess he just never had it in him. Over time, I’ve just learned that some people don’t express themselves like that. I’ve also learned that he was very human and made a lot of mistakes – just like I have.

Allison and I were at the reunion looking through a plethora of photo albums. In one of them, my grandmother had put together a book of major accomplishments that people in the family had done. There were weddings, awards, etc.

I turned to one page and saw a picture of my “Small Church Pastor of the Year Award.” I scoffed a little, thinking of how little that really meant anymore. But then I looked at the email above it and how my grandmother had gotten the picture in the first place:I stood there, held Allison and cried. Of course, my first thought was, “I wish he had told me he was proud of me.” But at least he was. He had trouble saying it, but that didn’t mean that in all of our problems, in all of our arguments, in all of our heated exchanges, my Dad loved me and bragged on me.

I sat next to my sister when they were taking photos of my grandparents and their three children. Dad was the oldest and he was missing. I swelled up again with tears, but held them back. He’s missing in this life, but he’s not far from my heart.

An imperfect man, yes. A sinner, yes. But I can identify. And like him, I know I’m doing the best I can now.

The Drug I Crave. Three Little Words.

I’ve talked to a lot of fallen ministers who are trying to live a life of repentance. There’s something we all need badly. But we rarely receive it.

Three words that for some reason are hidden from view. People hide them in their hearts like they’re a gold piece in a falling economy. Or even when a broken pastor approaches them with the most humble apology imaginable, they still withhold those words, even if they are able to say them.

“I forgive you.”

Fallen pastors yearn for those words. Some have been waiting to hear them ten or twenty years after a fall. Some have given up on hearing them and tell other fallen pastors, “Don’t hold your breath. They won’t ever forgive you. And if they do, they’ll never tell you. It’s easier for them to forget you than to forgive you.”

But the broken minister in his heart knows the Scripture. He desires for reconciliation. He desires for peace. Even though he knows things will never be the same, he knows that God’s people are at their best when there is forgiveness.

Those three words are the second hardest to say (behind “I’m sorry) but they complete the healing process.

They are a healing drug to the wounded pastor. The pastor who is trying to repent, to live, to heal. Trying to go forward although the memories of those around him keep dragging him down. Although his Scarlet Letter would imprison him, he fights daily from sunup to sundown to be free because of what Christ did and not what he did.

But each night before he goes to bed, each night in his dreams, each day as he recalls the events – even years later – he craves the drug of those words, “I forgive you.”

Knowing, “I forgive you” doesn’t equal, “I accept you back in my church” or “I want you back in the same role in my life as you were before.” No, “I forgive you” simply means one thing.

It simply means, “Christ gave me all I have and forgave me everything. The least I can do is forgive you being human like me.”

For the hurt, wounded, broken pastor, there is an addiction to this drug of forgiveness. There is probably no relief coming soon. However, there are thousands of people who are able to dispense his remedy.

Divisiveness: Acts 2 & Ugly Carpet

I’m the next link in a “chain of blogs” on the issue of divisiveness. Boy, do I know divisiveness. I created it.

Two years ago, I caused a church to hurt because as the pastor, I committed adultery. I created great harm and pain to many people, including my ex-wife, several deacons, an array of church members, family members, pastor friends, and many in the community. Heck, read my last blog post and you’ll find that the pain hasn’t been resolved for some.

I was reading Alan Knox’s blog post on divisiveness and what people really wanted to read about. People want to know how to deal practically with divisive issues. That sells. When you go to your local bookstore, you want results. You have a problem, you want instant results. You want it solved. Now. You bought the dang book, so you want solutions. I hear you, blogosphere.

I was reflecting on my fall from ministry this evening after reading what some former church members had written recently about me on Facebook. It wasn’t kind. They don’t even know I have access to it. I had a friend tell me recently that I really just need to suck it up because it was my sin that causes them to feel that way. He’s right. I caused their divisiveness, their anger.

But I also got to thinking about those specific people who have been lashing out at me since I fell. A lot of them never really liked me. Seriously. The ones who still harbor anger and hatred – they harbored anger and hatred while I was pastoring eight years ago. Funny thing is, I would love them, console them in times of need, go out of my way to pray for them, help them, “grease the sqeaky wheel” and it never really helped. They never would like me.

I can hear you saying, “well, you’re an adulterous, fallen pastor.” Yeah. But I know several ministers who did great at their churches who went down the same road. They spent a lot of time with the complainers and they never got anywhere.

Now, let’s think about the people who were “good.” I hate that word. None of us are really “good” but that’s a theological discussion that would cause divisiveness. Anyway, you know what I mean. There were people there who were kind to me, loving, supportive. After I fell, they were disappointed, upset and the like. It took a little time, but after a while, they showed me a little bit of grace. Guess what? They were still the same. My sin didn’t change them. They were still the same people.

What’s my point? As Arthur Sido said, yes, we must have love as the foundation for everything. As Jeremy Myers said, we are often the problem. As Jon Hutton said, we do need unity. As Andy Witt has clearly stated, our division has come from separation from God. Finally, as Bobby Auner has mathematically stated, Christians have been given the Great Commission to overcome divisiveness to multiply.

These men are all correct. However, we’re all dealing with the human element. Every person in our churches is an individual who, due to the fall, presumes the world revolves around them. Don’t agree? Try to change  the carpet color in your church. I’m not even trying to argue Calvinism vs. Arminianism here. Just change the carpet color. You know the routine. You’ll have a battle to rival Gettysburg. Why? Because we’re human. Because our stupid, human passions get the best of us. Because carpet color for some reason is more important than the Great Commission.

We have got to break through that. How? By walking in the Spirit. It starts with our leaders. And it’s hard when leaders like me fall. It’s hard when statistics tell us that 80% of our pastors are burned out. When 1,500 pastors a month leave the ministry due to moral failure, burnout, or conflict with church leadership.

I long for a day when we can return to the church of Acts 2: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Why not now? Because we, I, all of us are broken people. We are in desperate need of selfless love for Christ’s church. We’re discussing divisiveness because we are divided. Across borders, lines, squabbles and things that don’t matter. The early church had one focus. And it was not within. It was without.

Practical advice? Patience with one another’s faults. Love each other like you would want to be loved. That should sound very familiar. Whether it’s over carpet color or musical differences. If we can’t accept other Christians, we’re in serious trouble.

It’s like this. I’ve sinned horribly in my adultery, but God has forgiven me. Other Christians haven’t. But I tell myself, they may not forgive me now, but they’re gonna have to live with me in eternity, so they’d better get used to it sometime.

Friends, it’s the same way here. I see fellow Christians tear each other up online over the silliest things in the angriest manner possible. There’s just no reason for it. We do it out of pride. We have two options. We can keep on with our anger or begin to adapt an Acts 2 attitude. It begins in our own church – ugly carpet and all.

__________________________________________

Chain blog rules:

1) If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.

2) Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain”. Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog.

3) When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.

__________________________

“Links” in this chain blog:

1. “Chain Blog: Dealing with Divisive Issues Introduction” by Alan
2. “Chain Blog: Dealing with divisive issues starts with love” by Arthur
3. “I am divisive” by Jeremy
4. “Chain Blog: Please agree with me” by Jon
5. “Division and our shared humanity” by Andy
6. “Chain Blog: solving the problem” by Bobby
7. “Divisiveness: Acts 2 & Ugly Carpet” by Ray
8. Who will write the next “link” post in the chain?

Repentance, Isolation & My Best Friend

I’ve had a lot of best friends in my life. You’re probably the same way. I remember Todd Winesburg at Oakland Heights Elementary School. We did everything together. We had all kinds of fun, playing imaginary games, hanging out, being kids. Then as time went on, I made new friends.

There was my best friend in high school, Mickey DuVall. We talked a lot. About girls, life, politics. We even did a talent show together dressed up as the New Kids on the Block. We shared secrets, passions and life ambitions. But, I left for college.

In college, I made a new best friend. Brian Trout. What a great man. He was a lot like Mickey. Quiet, reserved, but very wise. He kept me in line a lot of times. Any time I needed him, he was there. We spent a lot of hours playing Tecmo Bowl, talking and I had the honor of introducing him to his wife.

Then, I moved away again. In seminary, I made another best friend. Randy Johnson. We shared stories, theology, and struggles together. He understood my sarcastic sense of humor and loved me anyway. He’s seen me weep like a baby when I was hurting and has heard my worst secrets and loved me anyway. Then I moved again.

Pastors are in a bad situation. We’re told that we shouldn’t make close friends with those in our congregation. If we do, it can come back and bite us. If you become close friends with a church member, that person can betray you. It’s happened many times and the list of stories where it has happened would shock you. Pastors are a non-trusting bunch. I stayed very isolated for a long time.

I’ve learned that being isolated probably led to my fall in the ministry.

However, I’m happy to tell you that ironically, I’ve found my best friend.

The statistics tell us that 98% of marriages to the person one has an affair with end in divorce. That’s a horrible statistic. There’s a good reason for that statistic. Most of the time, people can carry on with an affair and have a devil may care attitude with that person. They don’t have to worry about bills, arguments, or life in general with that person. It’s only an isolated hour or so a week.

Let me get the point across as I have before – adultery is wrong. God says so.

I have no idea why things have worked out for me like they have, but for God’s grace. My life as it is right now is nothing more than a testament to God’s love for me working all things together for His good, not mine. My life should not be an example for anyone to commit adultery and go seeking after love outside their marriage. If you have problems in your marriage, fix it. Get help. End of story. If you’re struggling, figure out why. Don’t blame your spouse, fix yourself first.

I will tell you this. I am currently married to my best friend, Allison. She understands me and loves me like I’ve never been loved before. Again, our love is not a paradigm for people with marital problems, but we are an example of how God can make a horrible situation into one that reflects His grace.

And listen to me carefully. I don’t say these things in deference to my former wife. I don’t blame her for anything. I sinned and sinned horribly.

I don’t deserve the life I have now. In fact, the moment I committed adultery, I deserved the wrath of God. I deserved punishment in the form of a firebolt from heaven landing on my head and making me a grease spot to be remembered no more.

But I do know that right now, the love I have with Allison is wonderful. I am not ashamed to say it either. Despite my sin, despite my horrible wandering, God has shown me mercy instead of immediate justice. For that, I am thankful.

I am married to my best friend. A woman who understands my soul and my heart.

Am I sorrowful for the pain I have inflicted upon many? Yes. Everyday. As David said, my sin is ever before me. I cannot wipe that away. It drives me to tears over and over. It is a bitter taste in my mouth. However, even David, as he sits in heaven now, forgiven of his sin sees God’s mercy and grace upon his life after his sin with Bathsheba. He killed Uriah the Hittite, one of his best friends, over the lust in his heart. Did David deserve to be in the line of Christ after that? No. But God’s grace and mercy after David’s repentance bore that for him.

I deserve nothing. I deserve the worst. But I have many blessings. The best thing I can do is count all of them to the blessings of God and “go and sin no more.” I can do as David said in Psalm 51 and “teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.”

My heart belongs to my God who saved me and redeemed me from the pit. I thank Him for the gift of a new best friend despite my sin.

The Slow Redemptive Process

I don’t know why, but I’ve been dreaming about my mother a lot lately. That, and she’s been on my mind. She died in an accident a few months before my fall. She wrote a few books. It might be because I’m writing a lot lately.
It might be because I’m slipping into depression. It may just be because I miss her. Maybe it’s all of those things.
God has a way of bringing hope to us when we’re at our worst.
This weekend, Cynthia’s daughter had a birthday.
Last year at this time, the kids we usually would have invited didn’t get invited because their families were very upset with us because of my fall at Angel Falls Baptist. I can’t say I blame them.
Barry, her father, who had twice committed adultery and been arrested, had a birthday party elsewhere for her. The church people had no problem attending that party. Again, I can see where they were coming from.
A year removed, things are slightly better. When I talk about those families, they are all people that Cynthia’s daughter is related to by blood. When we’ve seen them at the grocery store, most of them ignore us, and a couple have spoken to us.
That’s progress as far as I’m concerned.
Especially when I’ve heard fallen pastors tell me to never expect any type of reconciliation. Ever. I just don’t buy it. I’m sure there will be a great number who will never want to see me or Cynthia again. But as long as I live, I simply cannot believe that it is God’s will to give up on the process of reconciliation.
The week before her birthday, we got a text from one of the women who hasn’t spoken to us asking what Cynthia’s daughter might want for her birthday. We quickly invited them to the party. We also invited Marlee and Rich whom we had seen recently. We were hopeful and cautiously optimistic.
The day came and guess what? Everyone came. Our family and the former church members we invited. The best part? We all acted like normal human beings.
Wow.
I asked all these people, by letter, twice for forgiveness. I would love to hear from each of them, “Bro. Arthur, I forgive you.”
But it’s not going to happen.
But you know what can happen and what is almost just as good?
To be treated like a human and not a fallen pastor. To be looked in the eye again (which most of them did). To be talked to like I’m just another sinner trying to make it in the world.
To have what happened Saturday. To talk about sports, kids, the weather, family, and nothing in particular.
For them to just take a few minutes to see that a pastor who commits adultery doesn’t turn into the Antichrist. If anything, it’s possible he becomes more human and more humble than he was before.
To me, that will pave the road to a new relationship. That will be just as good as, “I forgive you.”
I hate it when I’m crying after I write a post.

Common Traits Of The Fallen Pastor, Part 1: Poor Father Relationship

Before I get to my epilogue (of sorts), I want to do this short series on common traits of the fallen pastor.

Since I started blogging, I’ve talked to and emailed a decent number of pastors who, like me, fell because of moral issues. I’ve read other online articles about how to avoid moral sin in the pastorate and warning signs, etc. However, most of these articles were written by men who hadn’t fallen or didn’t know a fallen pastor. That’s not to say there wasn’t any truth to those articles, but I hope I can offer a little more insight.

Just a preamble to this series – I’m listing things that seem to be common traits. Of course, that doesn’t mean they exist in all fallen pastors. But they did seem to be a common thread in discussions. This isn’t a scientific study, by any stretch of the imagination.

Also, none of these traits are an excuse for sin. If I’ve mentioned that once on this blog, I’ve said it a thousand times. There is no license for sin. Are there factors that lead us there? Yes. And it can be helpful to notice certain things that could lead to a fall.

I’d like to discuss the common trait of a poor relationship with the fallen pastor’s father. Fathers have a huge influence on pastors.

I remember the first day of seminary orientation, they asked us a few questions about our background. One of the questions they asked was, “How many of you have fathers who were pastors?” Most of the hands in the room went up. The questioner said, “75% of pastors have a father who was also a pastor. I didn’t raise my hand that day.

I had always had a rocky relationship with my dad. I think it’s because we were too much alike. He had a great relationship with my sister. They stayed up late at night going over the Bible and studying together. He and I rarely had much to say to each other.

He took us to church, was a deacon once, and kept to himself a lot. He worked hard, traveled a lot, and gave us a nice place to live. But we never really bonded during my life.

I smarted off a lot to him. I wasn’t a bad kid, just had a smart mouth. When I was 15, I suppose I had smarted off to him for the last time. He looked at my mother and said, “I’m done with him, you raise him. He’s yours.” He was serious. He shut me out after that.

My sister achieved academically better than I did and I always felt (whether it was right or not, I’ll never know, but it’s how I felt) that Dad always preferred my sister over me. I suppose if I had to deal with me and my smart mouth, I would have preferred my sister too.

After I went away to college, my relationship with my father got a little better. We would talk on the phone and I’d ask for life advice. When I made the decision to go to seminary, he got critical of me again. I’ll never understand that. It may not have been about seminary. Maybe he was dealing with his own life issues. He had dealt with a lifetime of anxiety himself.

I remember once, he came to visit Angelica and me at seminary. I jogged out to meet him and Mom at their car and the first thing he said to me was, “You’re getting a little fat, aren’t you?” This was coming from a man who was 150 pounds overweight himself. I rue that I rarely got praise from him. I never heard him tell me he was proud of me.

I had a counselor tell me once that he was subconsciously competing with me. Or whatever. I can see part of that being true. Whatever the problem was, it only got worse.

Even when I got ordained, or when he came to hear me preach, he’d unload on me. Not many kind words, but a lot of underhanded criticism.

He had a fall of his own. He and my mother divorced and I was angry. He basically kicked her out of the house. I judged him. Harshly. Something, I’ve learned, is wrong. I shut him out of my life completely for a period of about two years.

At the end of that two years, I started becoming convicted about it. I started talking to him a little, started trying to forge some sort of relationship. But it was too late. He died in an accident. I stood there, over his hospital bed while he was on life support realizing that I had done something horrible, but I didn’t quite know what it was right then.

Later, I realized what it was. I had failed to love him for who he was instead of looking past what he had done.

Other fallen pastors seem to have a similar problem with their fathers. I don’t know how much it adds to our sin later in life, but it has a significant impact upon who we are as adults.

There’s a lot to be learned here, I think. First, if you’re a father, make it work with your children. Lay aside any petty disagreements and humble yourself before them. Show them your vulnerability and just love them. Let them know you’re proud of them regardless of what they’ve done. Just love them for who they are. Heck yes, parenting is hard. But it’s worth it.

Secondly, if you have a parent who has caused you pain and still alive, don’t let time expire before you do whatever you can to fix it. There are many of you who have parents who have done horrible things to you. I’m sorry. It may never be the same again with them. We can, however, still have a relationship with them where we draw boundaries and still have a salvageable relationship with them. We’ve only got this life. Tell them how you feel. Write them a letter and share your pain constructively. It’s hard, I know. But don’t let the later pain of regret and the “what ifs” get hold of you.

Thirdly, learn to love people as Christ did. He looked past what people did and loved them for who they were. Never shut the door completely on someone. Sometimes, you might be the only person in this world that someone will listen to. If you shut that door on them, it’s dangerous.

Relationships with parents can be a great joy or a great pain. Those relationships form the people we are today whether we freely admit it or not. We cannot escape our generational past. But we can learn from it.

%d bloggers like this: