Monday, June 8, 2009

It Could Have Been Me

This post is about me...not about anyone else, although I will express a few opinions about others so that you can better understand why this is about me. Also, I seriously doubt anyone I know who has dealt personally with their own public moral failure of this kind is reading this blog, so don't think that I'm thinking of you as I wrote this.

I heard the news today
That another soldier tumbled
A fragile warrior slipped and fell from grace
The vultures swooped to tear his heart
And pin him to the ground
And from the shadows someone took his place

I won't name names or link blogs, although some, if not many of you reading this will know who and what I'm thinking about as I write this. Another pastor, a pastor that many would call a "Christian celebrity", has resigned from his church by admitting to a sexual sin. I heard about it yesterday afternoon, just a few hours after the "story broke", and, as usual, it has left me with a sick feeling in my stomach...but this time, it feels a little sicker.

Today we talk amongst ourselves
We never bought his words
We say we've seen the madness in his eyes
Tomorrow he's forgotten as
We've scrubbed him from our hearts
And as he bleeds we slowly turn our eyes

To be honest, I haven't had much of a liking for this particular pastor. I have followed his blog and his church website for a few years, and have had some personal interaction with him via the internet, which may or may not give me a better idea of what he is really like. The church he has led is doing amazing things to connect people with God (mostly for the first time in their lives), and I really believe that God has been glorified through their mission. And, because of that, I have chosen to never bash him or his ministry. But, I have never felt right in my heart about his personality and the way he communicates his passion for reaching those who are far from God.

So, to be honest some more, one of my first thoughts when I read about his confession yesterday was, "I'm not all that surprised."

Then, I quickly was reminded, for several reasons, how disgusting and shameful a thought like that is.

Firstly, no matter how much or little I knew or liked about this pastor, I never had any real reason to doubt his authenticity or character. Yes, sexual sin is not something that just comes out of is, indeed, often a "slow fade", and one that always begins with a choice to pervert priorities. But, I've heard almost nothing but great things about this guy from others, including from several pastors who I do greatly respect. Just because he says some stuff that makes me cock my head to the side doesn't give me any real reason to be able to rightly judge his character as a third party over the internet. He is my brother, one whom God knows as a son, and I can and should love him without having to love everything about him.

I'll be the first in line to acknowledge that I say and do (publicly, privately, etc.) some pretty crappy things, on a fairly regular basis. And, I have no doubt that, when I say/do something that seems flawed, there are some who would have reason in their own mind to not be surprised by my words and actions. I'm thankful for grace, and forgiveness, and for the wisdom to realize that I'm as imperfect and as capable of the lowest of the low as the next guy.

But, what gets me the most...what really gives me that extra sick feeling in my stomach today and makes me stop and question my own priorities is the thought that, it could have been me....

But it could've been me

I could've been the one to lose my grip and fall
It could've been me
The one who's always standing tall
For unless you hold me tightly, Lord
And I can hold on too
Then tomorrow in the news
It could be me, it could be me...

I'm not saying that I'm contemplating having an affair, or that I've got a list of x rated websites hidden away somewhere. I am saying that, unless I'm constantly checking my priorities and motives and habits, seeking to love God in all I do, and allowing others to do the same for me, I'm really not much further from a big failure than if I were already committing it. I'm guessing that every decision that leads to the fall is a "big" screw up in hindsight...again, these failures don't happen over night, and are always preceded by wrong, "small" choices.

And in our hearts we fear the ones
Whose lives are like our own
Whose shadows dance like
Demons in our minds
We think to push them far away
We exercise our souls
We make them play the tune for all mankind

Perhaps, when we hear of stories like this one, the greatest danger for church pastors and leaders is to not realize that it really is not a far fetched thought that, it really could have been me. Anyone in ministry leadership who believes they are further than one quick decision away from falling hard is insane. If we were to have asked this pastor, just a few months ago, about his commitment to sexual morality, I'm guessing he would have had no idea he'd be in this spot now.

So, today, I'm asking myself...

Are there thoughts I'm thinking that are not of pure and holy things?
Are there words I'm speaking that are breaking down my fellowship with God and others?
Are there things I'm doing that are leading me away from God?
Are my motives about God, or about serving myself?
Are my passions for the things that make God happy?

More than just about anything else, the thing that keeps me wanting to know and love God more is the healthy fear of falling hard and crushing my God, my family, my friends, my ministry and my reputation in front of those who are far from God. I know, from past mistakes, what I'm capable of, and I know how much I can hurt other people (my wife, foremost) when I say or do something even sightly embarrassing and questionable.

And I've seen enough of our "Christian celebrities" and even a few personal friends publicly screw up huge to know that, even in my small realm of influence, my failure would have a huge impact on others.

I believe there is a place
Where (I) can run and hide
When (I) know that (I) can't stand
For one more day
And I believe You're waiting, Lord
To hold me very close
For You know without Your love
I'd lose my way

I pray for humility to acknowledge and confess my shortcomings. For wisdom to see the future consequences of my words and deeds. For discernment to pause and check the smallest of decisions with God's Word. The blessing of having others who love and care for me enough to ask the tough questions. For love and grace and forgiveness to help me get up and and dust off and keep moving forward.


The lyrics above (in
italics) are from the song "It Could Have Been Me" by Phil Keaggy.


grey like snuffie said...

Often we do "see" something amiss, but once again this is a good reminder to pray for those in leadership that God would protect them and keep them accountable with someone, that nothing can be hidden. Pray, pray, pray..take those leaders off the pedestals and pray for the struggles of their humanity that may be hidden from most. They are but human...but our God is big...pray, pray, pray for them.

Julie said...

Well said. It's easy for us to see and point out other people's flaws (and some people seem especially thrilled to do so to a Christian), but when it comes down to it, we're ALL lost without God.

Thanks for sharing, and reminding us that unless we hold tight to Christ that it isn't out of the realm of possibility that it could be US who falls next, be it publicly or privately.

Stacey said...

Well written. What if instead of swooping down like vultures on people, we prayed for them and showed them the grace, mercy, and compassion that God shows us everyday?

Thank you for reminding me to be in constant communication with the Lord regarding my own life...every decision, every thought, every action.

Phil 4:8

Laurie in Ca. said...

First of all Nate, let me thank you for bringing this to the attention of everyone out here. It is such a major topic that no one is immune to. We must not judge and must be so careful to guard our own house. After 25 years of marriage, 15 years ago this happened in our marriage. Our children were grown, we were moving into a new normal phase of our marriage and it happened. It was the most devastating and heartbreaking time of our lives. It rocked me to the core and could have destroyed our marriage. I wanted to leave, wanted to stay, wanted to die, wanted it to not be so. God was so good and even let me know He provided a way out if I chose to do so. So much turmoil and pain, and yet He was faithful to bring us through with forgiveness, new trust, hope, into a deeper relationship with each other and with Him. The road is not easy, not meant to be easy, but doable with God. What the enemy meant to destroy, God made stronger and sweeter and the past 15 years have truly been the best. We are just everyday people, not in a position of leadership in ministry (except our own families). I feel for this couple going through this right now, living this out in the eyes of the world. I am praying for the same God who graciously got us through to help them through this is they are willing to work it out and give it all they have. From this side of the fence that I am speaking, I pray that they have the privacy they need to begin this long hard road of mending the shattered pieces of their lives and all their immediate family that has been affected. We have no place to judge another, it is work enough to keep our own gardens tended and keep weeds under control. If we do this, others have the room they need to repair the brokenness with Gods help. I am sorry to go on and on here, but this can happen to anyone of us at anytime if we are not holding tight to our relationships. I never thought it would happen to us, but can say now that I am thankful for the wisdom and lessons learned by honoring the vows I took almost 41 years ago. We may live with the purest of thoughts but the enemy will bring an outsider to trip us up by admiring us and saying things that stroke our ego, making us think we are missing out on something better. May we all see this lie for what it is, a LIE.

Love and Hugs, Laurie

Rick Lawrenson said...

Good post. Very sad story.

I've seen too many too often fall, not only to sexual misconduct, but to financial immorality as well in the ministry.

This weekend I'll be meeting with one of this brother's mentor/friends (already planned beforehand), and I hope that he and I, as seasoned pastoral veterans (read that old and gray) can make a contribution somehow to help younger men in ministry stay focused and faithful.

Indeed, it could have been me, too.

Rebecca said...

I enjoyed your perspective, Nate. My dad retired last year form 40 years of ministry. He'd known of several who fell in a similar fashion. So did I. It's heartbreaking, for all involved.

Laurie in Ca. said...

Hey Nate,

You can delete my comment above. I don't think it was the proper place to post it.