What I Wish I’d Learned From Hershael York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Bell Curve, John Piper, John MacArthur, and Others

This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but until tonight, I was never able to put it into words. In my upcoming book, I talk about the unrealistic expectations that are placed upon a pastor and the stress it causes him. Many of the unrealistic expectations come from within the pastor. He thinks he is supposed to be superhuman. He thinks he is supposed to be a glorified man, almost free of sin. That is absolutely unreasonable.

I love John MacArthur. I started listening to his sermons when I was 14. He shaped my theology at a very early age. I remember the first time I heard John Piper. I thought, “That guy is amazing. How can someone be that holy?” When I heard him at Together for the Gospel, I wanted to be like him.

I promise, I tried. I wanted to be like my heroes of the faith. I heard not only them, but other giants of the faith calling me to a life of holiness and greatness. It seemed unreachable. I was a wretch. My sin was great and they seemed like giants compared to me. The distance between me and them was terrific.

Then, two years ago, I fell morally from the ministry. I was assured of the distance.

I was talking to my wife tonight about these great men and I came up with a theory about my heroes of the faith. I think it helps.

There are thousands of pastors who strive to be like John MacArthur, John Piper, Albert Mohler and R.C. Sproul, to name a few. However, they see in their lives a million things that are wrong, sinful and keep them from being like those men. Daily, these thousands of pastors beat themselves up over their sins and hate themselves over their wrongs. They place high expectations on themselves, wanting to be like their heroes. Don’t deny you’ve felt like this. Wanting to be like a certain hero of the faith. This is not an attack on our heroes, this is an affirmation of the thousands of pastors who are very ordinary.

I spent years in the pastorate wondering why I wasn’t like my heroes in the faith. I wondered why my life didn’t model theirs. I thought if I acted like them and preached like them that I would eventually be like them. But I now know that was folly.

Ever hear of the bell curve? It’s a formula that lets us know that most of us are extremely ordinary, some are very unordinary, and some are superordinary. The bell curve, as you see illustrated, is used to let us know about the  intelligence quotient in our society. The vast majority of us are of average intelligence. Very, very few are genius.

I’d like to think that people like MacArthur and Piper are geniuses of our time. That’s not to infer that we shouldn’t strive for sanctification. However, they are a rare breed. You know it’s true. Feel free to open up a volume of Jonathan Edwards and know that in his day, he was set apart in his time as well.

My fear is that thousands of minsters are setting their barometers upon what MacArthur and Piper are doing. We are placing unrealistic expectations upon ourselves based upon five minute video clips of our favorite pastors, when we should be looking at what God has for our lives instead.

God has a specific plan for the very ordinary among us. Believe me, there are thousands of ordinary pastors among us who can make a tremendous difference. We won’t ever have a television audience, CD ministry, or ever publish a book. But God has seen fit to place us where he has us.

God hasn’t called thousands of men to be like John Piper or John MacArthur. He’s called us to be who we are. Special and unique, although we may seem ordinary to the rest of the world. Who did Christ call to follow Him? Fishermen. Tax collectors. Zealots.

I praise God for the ministries of great men who have risen up and caught our fascinations. But that will not be the calling of most of us. Most of us will be toiling in the small to medium sized churches, loving people, preaching week after week with no great admiration. And that is fine. If we are to be a Sunday School teacher, a minister, a counselor or a pastor, we should model our calling after Christ.

Our peace comes knowing that we are following what Christ has called us to do. Be ordinary. Be yourself. Be who Christ called you to be. And that should be good enough for any of us.

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