Moral failure is what they’re calling it in the news.
It is my single biggest fear. Perhaps it’s because I have witnessed the cultural aftershock every time a Christian leader falls into scandalous sin. It could be that I’ve been up close with one too many people who felt the pain of a moral failure first-hand. Or perhaps it’s because I have come alarmingly close to far too many “failures” of my own. I could fall tonight.
I feel this. I can only imagine what my pastor-brother is going through. It pains me to think about the conversations he had to have with his wife and children. I hurt for his family and his church and the Ft. Lauderdale Christian community. It breaks my heart.
Some people want blood: Shoot the offender. Here’s another example of mega-religion gone bad. Others call for a pardon. Let he who has no sin cast the first stone, we say. Nobody’s perfect; God understands. There are no easy answers.
What constitutes a moral failure anyway? Why are some sins more “scandalous” than others? Funny you never hear about a pastor being disqualified for arrogance or gluttony or gossip; just sex or fraud. Does it make a difference if he came forward and confessed instead of being caught? Do we treat this differently if he was a small group leader in a church? What about a drummer in a church worship band?
Here are some random thoughts directed toward our little tribe to chew on in a moment like this.
1. Sin is no joke. It always kills. It always hardens the heart. It always deceives. It always has consequences. It’s not that God won’t forgive. Of course he will. It’s just that the longer we delay our repentance the greater the gravitational pull of our darkness. I think about the children of professing Christians who are forced to silently watch their parents make decisions that violate the will of God. They will pay a price for years to come. I’m not throwing a stone. I can sympathize with the restlessness of a cheating husband. I have seen the pain of the scorned wife. I relate to the allure of materialism. Here’s the point: Deal with your darkness. It’s not just going away.
2. Sex sins are different. Enough of the idiotic cliché that says a sin is a sin. Let’s get real. When we sin sexually, it’s different. The apostle Paul said that when a man sleeps with a prostitute he becomes one with her. There is some sort of a soul-tie that happens when we engage in sexual sin. It messes with your soul. If you have been in sexual sin, I beg you to repent deeply and quickly. This often means reaching out for healing.
3. You’re not wired to thrive as a lone ranger. I’m always reminded of how inspiring the life of David was – until his friend Jonathon died. While he was a nobody, and while Jonathon was around, he was slaying giants and writing scripture and living boldly. But post-Jonathon he’s a different story. He commits adultery and murder and a governmental cover-up; he numbers the people and his family falls apart. Position, success, and prominence are too dangerous to endure on your own. It seems we have a need to be deeply known and deeply loved AND deeply accountable – especially when we ascend to our “thrones.” I always wonder if a fallen pastor had any Jonathons.
4. We have to rediscover the forgotten discipline of confession. When we confess our sins to God he forgives us and cleanses us (1 John 1:9). But when we appropriately confess to each other we have the opportunity to be fixed: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, THAT YOU MAY BE HEALED.” (James 5:16) What sort of friend should you goto to confess? Someone who would actually respond with a healing prayer.
5. A warning to fellow pastors: One of the most dangerous things about ministry is that it can be learned. With enough talent and hard work, you just might get good at this. What a pity. One of the saddest verses in all of Scripture for me involves Samson, who had been on a slow but steady decline away from God. When his hair was finally cut, he got up to shake himself just like he had so many times before, but he did not realize the touch of God had left him. Don’t become a professional.
6. A plea to people who love their leaders and elders: Pray for them! Of course we believe in the priesthood of all believers. But let’s be honest. This is a career path unlike others. If a salesman has a moral failure, we shake our heads and move on. If the president has a moral failure, he obviously gets to keep his job. But in this line of work you lose everything. And don’t forget Mondays. Just ask a pastor what their soul goes through for about 24 hours following intense ministry every weekend. Pray.
7. It’s easy to get cynical when you hear about another Christian failure. But cynicism is soul-laziness. You cannot love people and be cynical at the same time. Choose love.
8. We have to become more fluent in grace. Most Christians functionally believe that the saving work of Jesus will forgive them, but it’s going to be their own hard work and striving that will grow them. Somehow we MUST come to grips with the reality that the same work of Jesus that justified us is precisely what we need to sanctify us. We need to learn to APPLY the gospel of amazing grace.
Beware, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called “today”, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13)
Did you catch that? My heart gets hard! Your heart gets hard! But we have the power to melt each other’s hardened hearts. The grace of God through the people of God has no equal. This means it’s not too late for this fallen pastor in south Florida. And it’s not too late for you.