Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Posts tagged ‘Pastors’

What I Believe About God

I attended a meeting not long ago and heard a speaker say, as the general premise of the talk, that she had figured out how to get God to heal anyone, anytime.  She wasn’t talking about coercing God or artfully manipulating Him to do whatever we would want Him to do, especially in the area of healing.  She wasn’t that dumb.  Rather, her main point was that everything we need to know about healing, and getting people healed, is in God’s Word – the Bible.  All we needed to do was pray a certain way, believe a certain way, and He’d come through.  He would have to, you see, because He “had promised us He would heal anyone who believed, and would respond favorably to anyone who prayed in faith.”

But she doesn’t know what to do, think or say when “God” doesn’t heal someone, other than to just keep praying.  (That is, until death ends the process, of course.)  Others who believe in healing today, and have the formulas that “work,” will explain that when a person isn’t healed someone is at fault – either the person praying or the person that is sick.  What they are unintentionally or intentionally saying, depending on the person, is that they’ve got God figured out.  They know how He operates.  He’s totally predictable … that He responds a certain way in a certain situation every time that situation occurs.

Well … that’s what people say who have either (a) never read the Bible, (b) have read only the “interesting” parts of the Bible, (c) [ the most likely option] have approached reading the Bible with a certain pre-judgment (or prejudice, if you will).  Oh, and there is an option (d) and it is:  people have heard and then bought into teaching from teachers who live option “c” – teachers who themselves bought into the teaching of someone … who bought into the teaching of someone … etc., etc.

Their God is only as big as their understanding of Him … and that tends to be SMALL.

Let me tell you about my God.

He’s smarter than me.  I’m limited in my understanding of Him.  I can’t figure Him out … BUT … it doesn’t bother me.  In fact, I like it.  (If I could figure Him out I might think He is weak, or lacking intelligence … way too small to be worshipped as the great “I AM.”)

God tells me a lot about Himself … but again, more than I can fully understand … and He keeps me curious.  I want to know more about Him.

Put another way, His BIGNESS makes Him God … and for me, I like that.  I want a BIG God.  I want a God that can do infinitely more than I can, so much so that I wouldn’t want His job because I couldn’t do His job.  (I certainly don’t think I’m up for it.  I believe the position of GOD is filled.)

God’s Word, while totally true, is complex because it’s from Him – the One who is infinite in wisdom and knowledge.  It’s written to me and for me – the one who is finite and not all-knowing.  That means that there are parts of the Bible I won’t “get” … and there are parts that no one will get.  (If I could get it all, or if anyone else could understand it all … well, we’d have to be God’s equal, right?)  That said, there are times when children will get Him better than we do.

I believe God is the consummate, perfect LOVER.  He never holds grudges, never lies, alway understands, and is totally accepting … but … He’s not stupid.  He loves with His eyes wide open.  We can’t fool Him.  There’s not a place dark enough that we can hide our true feelings toward Him from Him.

Because God loves me He wants me to know Him better and better, and because He loves me He will reveal more and more about Himself to me in language I can understand.  (But that still means I won’t ever FULLY understand Him, or His ways.)

I believe God is beyond generous.  Because He’s so giving He always wills and wants to give me what is good for me; He said so.  He will not withhold good things from me.  At the same time, He WILL withhold what is NOT good for me.  He said so – He said don’t even ask for those things because He’s not listening.  Therefore,I should never try to lay a guilt trip on Him.  As hard as we might try, we can’t make Him feel guilty for not answering our every prayer in the way we dictate it to Him.  I also believe you and I can’t come up with formulas that make Him do anything He doesn’t want to do … even if we beg … or fast … or cut ourselves … or make promises concerning what we will do for Him in the future.  I can never force Him to do anything.  He is the greater, I am the lesser.  So if I think or believe something … ANYTHING … that doesn’t mean He has to believe it, too.

I believe God is HOLY.  That means He can never sin, just as light and darkness can’t mix.  He can’t sin against me, or against anyone in the whole world.  So … if anything bad happens to me – my stocks tank, I’m shipwreck, I am stoned (and I’m not talking about “pot” here), all my goods confiscated, I get really sick, or even die … it’s not His “fault.”  He is perfect.  Pure.  Right every time.  Good every time.  Kind every time.  Because He knows everything and I don’t, He knows when it’s time to pull the plug – my days are numbered … BY HIM.  You can’t sing, “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” and believe otherwise.

I believe God is more concerned about me – the real, down-deep-inside-me me – than my comfort.  That means things I may not like could be good.  Just because I’m uncomfortable doesn’t mean something is wrong, or bad.  God can’t be bad.  My circumstances could be, but He is never or could ever be bad.  That also means that something bad happening in my life might ultimately bring about something good … something unanticipated.

God is tough.  He is the same God – in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  He didn’t come to His senses in the New Testament.  Jesus doesn’t represent “His good side” while Jehovah represents “His bad side.”  He does not have a split personality.  He is not a child killer in the Old Testament and a child resurrector in the New.  He is Job’s God.  He’s is Peter and John’s, too.  He hasn’t changed.  Everything He did in the Old and New Testament, whether we understand it or agree with it, was good because He is good.  In other words, He had His reasons for whatever He did … and He was HOLY while He did what He did.  Got it?

I believe God healed people in the Old and New Testaments … and He DIDN’T heal people in the Old and New Testaments – for His own reasons.  Again, some of those reasons He has never explained.  Some He has.  That said … even if I’m not healed, not protected, not always safe, not wealthy, not comfortable, not IN on His plan or plans … I try not to care.   It’s hard, but I’m better at it today than yesterday.  Because I trust Him.  I trust His judgment.

I trust Him.  And I love Him.  I can’t wrap my arms or my mind around Him, but I love Him – passionately.  During some tender moments He and I share it’s all I can do not to cry – I’m so filled with emotion.  I go ahead and cry eventually.  And He likes it, and thinks it’s masculine.  

So … that’s my God – my best attempt today to put what I believe about him down on paper, or in a blog post.  I don’t want to live without Him just because I don’t understand all of His ways.  I want Him, even if He keeps me wondering.  He is wonder-filled and wonderful.

Oh, and I do pray!  I do ask.  I ask BIG.  I have great faith.  I’ve seen miracles.  Real, honest to goodness miracles.   And when He doesn’t answer in the way I pray I just keep praying – with an open mind and an open heart.

He is God.  I am not.  And that is a good thing.

“What Do You Do?”

Recently I was contacted on my Facebook page by a young missionary.  We are now “friends” – if you know anything about Facebook.  He asked, “What are you doing in ministry right now?”  So I told him what I’m doing, and then I had a brainstorm.  I thought, “Maybe others are curious about what I’m doing right now, too.”

Lowell speaking at Trinity

Lowell speaking at Trinity

Whether you are or your aren’t … here goes.  My letter to Jerod.  I replied:

Before I answer that question let me give you some of my background.

I’m 55 years old, and have been an A/G pastor since I was 20.  Good grief!  Just writing that made me feel old … for about 2 seconds.  Anyway …

In 35 years I’ve served four churches and one parachurch organization.  Because I’ve been the following:  an Associate, Senior/Lead, parachurch assistant director, and Pioneer Pastor … I’ve been able to encourage pastors who find themselves in any one of those positions at this time.

I’ve had the good fortune of traveling the world – seeing foreign missions operations first hand, and I’ve worked with inner-city parachurch organizations everywhere I’ve lived as well.  I can safely say, I believe in the Great Commission … and I’ve lived it as well.

So … what sort of ministry am I involved in?  That’s complicated.  I formed a small ministry – it’s call E-Perspectives International Corporation … or EPIC.  It serves as the umbrella for the following “activities” – writing, conference and seminar speaking, pulpit supply, and counseling. 

Teaching in Belize

Teaching in Belize

My favorite part of what I do is counseling … but that’s a misnomer … it should read, “listening.”  By that I mean I’m a safe person to talk to about dreams and visions … before an idea is taken to a board (or a spouse).  Usually when pastors envision something the first response they get from their leadership team or the wife is, “Are you nuts?!”  So … I listen … and help a guy process – OUT LOUD – what he’s been thinking up to this moment.  I’d say I’m a better than average listener – and that makes pastors feel secure.  They know I don’t have an agenda of my own – I don’t want their church or their pulpit.  I just want to help them accomplish what God

I love pastors.  Oh, and let me add – I’m a pastor’s kid.  That’s another dynamic I bring to the table.

When I’m invited to speak my favorite messages are the ones most (if not all) pastors HATE to preach.  I’m referring to the sermons about money, giving (especially to Missions), and how a congregation should value their leadership – especially their pastor.  (Most guys I know shy away from saying things like, “You know, folks, I’m a gift from God.  Ephesians 4 says so.  How ’bout treating me better.”  You know what I mean?  Ha!)  I also take assigned topics – because Pastors know what their people need to hear, and maybe hearing it from another source will get a better response.

 

That’s me, in a nutshell – me being the nut.  If you’d like to talk, give me a call.

Oh, and the “E” in EPIC stands for “Eternal.”  I try to describe, using God’s own language, how He feels about things that do and don’t last forever.  We Christians spend way too much time and energy on temporary things.  (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

If any of you – my blogging friends – know of a pastor or missionary I can help out, minister to, speak for, etc., let me know.

Rape and Abuse

The long term effects of rape and abuse confound and frustrate me.

I’m a former pastor who, from time to time, tried to help victims of abuse and rape overcome the affects those crimes had upon their lives.  Because I was a community leader (pastors still are), I was thrust into the netherworld of the human psyche – both the victim’s and the perpetrator’s. 

My training in pastoral counseling was broad and useful.  It was meant to be beneficial to my “clients,” both my congregants and the Man on the Street who might come by my office for conversation and prayer.  I felt my role was to provide first aid … to stop the bleeding long enough to get these poor, psychologically and emotionally wrecked people to better equipped individuals – “professionals” (if there is any such thing when it comes to dealing with human brokenness and pain).  

Nothing – no amount of education or training – could have prepared me for my conversations with rape and abuse victims.

That said, the reason I’m writing today is because I’ve been reminded of the continuing effects this kind of violence has on men and women.  Once again I’ve been painfully exposed to the long-term influence and power of abuse upon its victims.  Once again I heard (and most of the time I’ve heard), “If I had been smarter, this would not have happened.”  Or its variant:  “How could have I let (this or that) happen to me?” 

It’s been my experience on many occasions that rape’s victims seem to think they are at fault in the matter and that they brought the violence upon themselves.  The abused many times take responsibility for the actions of the abuser, saying, in effect, “I let this happen to me” (emphasis on I).

That may or may not be the experience of other pastors, counselors, or mental health professionals.  I’m saying, authoritatively, that this has been my experience … and it has and continues to sicken me.

In my thirty-three years of being a pastor my joy has been to preach about Jesus.  I’ve had the privilege of sharing the love of God.  The most loving thing I’ve done is lead people to an understanding that God has a solution for the sin they, themselves, are responsible and accountable for.  The Word of God says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  It also says, “The wages of sin is death” (eternal separation from a holy God who cannot look upon sin, or have it in His presence).  But that same Word says, “But …”  (I love it!)  “ … the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

The good news (Gospel) in a nutshell is, “Jesus took my sin upon Himself, dying in my place, so that I might have eternal life … and if I believe that, and ask God for Christ’s death to cover my debt to Him (‘the wages of [my] sin’), I can be forgiven of ALL my sin and sins.  As a result I can be made (by God’s work, not mine) clean (holy), and be assured that I am ‘saved’.” 

I’ve watched people accept this Idea, this His-story (sic), this Truth, and I’ve watched God’s LIFE permeate their entire beings – bringing freedom from addictions, guilty pasts, and the lies of our enemy – Satan.  I’ve then watched as freed people joyfully live out their days!

Many times I’ve led rape and abuse victims to this loving Father God, the One who commissioned His Son Jesus to provide salvation, and watched as He changed MUCH of their lives while giving them assurance of eternal life.

But (and here’s a frustration of mine) many of these same folks continue to struggle with the memory of their physical and emotional rape.  [NOTE:  I’m not suggesting that God, when He saves a person, takes away bad memories.  In fact, 99.9% of the time He does not, I believe because He wishes those bad memories to become the springboard for empathetic ministry to other victims.]

Here’s the crux of my frustration:  On an intellectual and psychological level, these victims have never quite gotten to a place where they could say, “I didn’t do this to me!  I don’t have to take responsibility for anything but my sin, and in this case I didn’t sin … I was sinned against!”

I realize now that I am way over my head, and that much of what I’m writing will be fodder for critics of God’s amazing grace.  Still, I must write, “Oh, how I wish I could somehow magically transform the mindset of these wounded people by saying something, or by waving a magic wand over their head and heart.  I wish the truth of what has happened to them would come into clearer focus.”

Today, my purpose in writing on this subject is not to suggest a quick fix or religious version of “Abracadabra.”  That would be insulting, and insensitive.  I’m writing to express my ongoing disturbance – that victims of past violence continue to live with a kind of self-imposed “responsibility” for the crimeand that’s a LIE.  I’m also writing to suggest a way to break the power of the LIE.  I believe the only antidote for a lie is truth. 

Further, I’m saying that one dose of the truth may be adequate for one person but not for ninety-nine.  I’m saying that for most victims, repeated doses of TRUTH will break the power of any lie.

Jesus said, “The TRUTH will set you free,” and I believe that.  And the five-fold Truth I’ve gleaned from my experience with rape and abuse victims is this:  At some point, if a victim is to experience real freedom from the violence of their past they must BELIEVE (1) that they didn’t do to, or bring this violence upon, themselves!  And they must believe (2) that God didn’t WILL that terrible experience for their life, but (3) because people are selfish, and because selfish people have a mind and will of their own (“freedom to choose” being one of the first gifts God gave mankind in the Garden), God is NOT the One they should be angry at or distant from.  They must accept as fact that (4) Satan puts the thought into the rapist’s head (tempts him or her) that being violent against someone else will lessen their own pain.  Satan puts the thought into the abuser’s head that hitting someone will undo the damage done to them.  And victims of rape and abuse must believe that (5) when a person is deceived by such lies, and acts out, the perpetrator is responsible for making that choice and the resulting action … and by extension, Satan is a coconspirator in the crime.  (NOTE:  I don’t think it’s a sin to be angry at Satan.  Just keep this in mind:  he’s a powerful adversary.  Refrain from taking him on in your own strength!)

When I hear abusers say, “She MADE me do it,” I know the abuser bought a lie of Satan.  (And for those of you who don’t believe in a real Satan, just a few thoughts to ponder:  One, Satanists believe.  Two, God knows there is a real Satan … he visited Jesus in the desert, and Jesus said He saw Satan fall from heaven.  Three, wishing or thinking he does not exist is not very bright – you’d be denying empirical evidence found in the world’s daily newspapers.  There’s more, but I just include these three.)

I’m inviting comment, of course.  This is a very emotional topic.  If I’ve written anything that has offended any reader, my intent was not to stir up pain and anger but to bring my experience, my thoughts, and the love in my heart to the public square for consideration.

THINK ABOUT IT.

What Do Prostitutes, Policemen, Painters, Pastors and P-Taxi Drivers Have In Common?

images.jpegWhat Do Prostitutes, Policemen, Painters, Pastors and P-Taxi Drivers Have In Common?  What a weird question.

I was talking to a car salesman not too long ago, and he asked me if I had ever heard of “The Four P’s,” and I said, “No.”  He told me that the four P’s stood for prostitutes, policemen, painters and pastors.  Then he added, “And really, if the truth be known, there’s actually five P’s … p-taxi drivers.”  I told him I was stumped but that I was really curious because I’m one of the Four P’s.  I’m a retired pastor now called to another ministry.  I’ve become a writer, blogger, ministry consultant, and speaker, but just two years ago I was in my thirty-fourth year of pastoral ministry.  I’m now fifty-four.

prostitute.jpgHe said, “Those are the people that car salesmen don’t hate to see come into a dealership … but when they do come in red flags go up because, on average, those five people-groups have the worst credit. 

My friend explained that, generally speaking, each person in those groups tended to live way too close to the precipice of financial ruin.  When it came to spending the usual MO was to max out credit cards and home equity loans in order to have what they want, when they want it. 

I was intrigued.  He went on to say that usually their paychecks (or in the case of prostitutes, their earnings) were spent on luxuries they couldn’t afford – for example, things like plasma TV’s, expensive cars, fancy clothes, and dining at expensive restaurants.  When they should have been paying down debt they were in a new car dealership.  These folks tended to delay, delay, delay paying creditors until the last minute or beyond, or they’d just pay “the minimum payment.”  Before they knew it, they’d be so far over their heads in debt that they’d begin to sink under its weight.

My question was, “So … what are they doing at a dealership?”

With a frown he replied, “I guess they’re coming in to keep up appearances, keep up with the Joneses, or satisfy a lust for ‘more’.”I’m not blogging to be mean, throw stones, or appear to be “holier than thou.”  I’m in no position to judge anyone.  But I feel I just speak up.  I’m hoping that some pastors will get this message. 

You see, what this salesman had shared was relevant to me.  Until I was forty-one years old, and I had been pastoring for twenty years, I constantly wrestled with credit card debt, and living beyond my means.  It wasn’t until what Jesus demanded of anyone following Him sunk in that I began the arduous process of breaking bad spending habits, and working toward being debt-free.  My heart had to change.

Jesus said in Mark 8:34-36, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  (This is found in the New Testament portion of the Bible.)

Think about it.

If you’re a Christ-follower, and you’re trying to live beyond your means, you might want to change directions … sooner rather than later.

With love!

One Little Bite

apple-one-bite.jpg

I can tell you how it felt to look my dad, my retired pastor-father, in the eyes and tell him that I’d had a moral failure. It felt like telling a lousy joke and not being able to get to the punch line.

My misadventure, for lack of a better term, began almost two years after my first wife died from ovarian cancer. Vicki and I had married in 1973, in between my sophomore and junior years at Bible college. Our marriage was better than good, and that’s not just my opinion. Vicki said so too, as did everyone who knew us, including our folks, our sons, and the people who received our ministry over the years. Most would say our marriage was bullet-proof, and we were certain we’d live to see golden anniversaries. But cancer changed all that.

About six weeks before Vicki died she asked me, “Lowell, after I die do you think you’ll remarry?” I told her that I had thought about it, and that I hoped to follow Paul’s recommendation from 1 Corinthians 7 and remain single, serving the Church with a 100% focus.

Vicki laughed. Then, seeing the hurt well up in my eyes, she explained that she didn’t think I was a sex maniac who, without a wife, would “burn up” with lust. She was confident I could take care of myself when it came to the laundry, keeping a clean house, and doing all the tasks of the single life. But she felt strongly that I needed a helper.

“You’re wired for marriage, Lowell. You’re good at it. And I think you should marry again so that someone will be there to guard your heart.” She told me that God must have had me in mind when He said, “It’s not good for man to live alone.” She just couldn’t imagine me alone. That’s why she had laughed.

Just four months after our thirtieth wedding anniversary Vicki died. She was a young thing, leaving just four days past her fiftieth birthday.

Cancer is an insidious killer – a cruel reminder we live on a fallen planet. Vic battled the disease for five years, and along the way she experienced an honest-to-goodness, medically verified miracle right in the middle of her fight. (Her healing story appeared in the Pentecostal Evangel, Mother’s Day edition of 2001. http://pe.ag.org/Articles2001/4540_rhoden.cfm Check it out.)

After Vicki’s passing I was often told that I “grieved well.” I know what they meant, but putting it on paper still looks weird. All I know is that I navigated the pain of great personal loss, and found deeper things on the other side of it. I didn’t blame God, and I survived.

There are several things I feel really good about looking back. I successfully steered clear of Internet pornography, and I didn’t go bar-hopping. I focused on pastoring the church I loved, and filled my days—filled them—with ministry. And when I wasn’t working myself silly I went out with friends, or watched sports and news into the wee hours. Usually I’d get about five hours of sleep, and that seemed to be enough.

On the down side, I ate too much – usually in front of the TV late at night. And I didn’t exercise enough, so I ended up weighing more than ever. But, hey, it didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t “available.” I was just a modern St. Paul with a taste for junk food.

That lifestyle lasted eighteen months until, just as Vicki had predicted, I was blindsided by loneliness. I remember the day: I was going through a bathroom drawer and I came across the Nike sweatband Vic had used to hold her hair out of her face while she prepared for bed. Bang! I missed her…again. But not just her. I missed living with a woman, and all the intimate stuff that goes with sharing one’s life with a female.

There aren’t words in my vocabulary to describe what it’s like being a widowed pastor. Friendships and routines change drastically. You’re only planning your day when you’re a widower. Things like fixing one dinner at home only accentuates the loneliness. So for me it was junk food and the tube for company.

Some friends noticed when I started talking about meeting someone. A few told me some of their work associates had used E-Harmony or some other web dating service, and now they were married. The Internet sounded safe enough, so I put out my profile without prayer ever crossing my mind.

Three months into my internet dating experience, I “met” a Christian lady that lived three hundred miles away. She loved God, was highly educated, and held a top position in a good company. She was easy to talk to, and she seemed to be “the one.”

I drove to see her a few times. She came to see me. One time we met halfway. That was a huge mistake. I’m relieved to say we never had intercourse, but we crossed every other line. I sinned. Period.

Conviction came immediately, but I rationalized. I told myself that I hadn’t broken marital vows. And then I promised God and the lady that I would not cross those lines again.

Somehow the sanitized term “moral failure” just doesn’t do justice to the depth of my sin. I can remember one particular day when the Holy Spirit was saying—yelling in my conscience—“Don’t do this! Turn around and walk away.” But I said, out loud, “I want this.” Out loud. Talk about brazen.

You don’t have to take a big bite from the apple when one little bite will do. Just one little bite and suddenly you find yourself frantically searching the garden for fig leaves, hoping God doesn’t show up and start asking questions. Like Adam, I knew nakedness. Besides violating my relationship with God, I knew I had broken my ministerial vow to live a pure life, to steer clear of anything that would cast my fellow ministers in a negative light, or stigmatize the Body of Christ.

Eventually I broke off the relationship. I also broke a heart. I wish I hadn’t. I wanted the proverbial clock to move back to the days of innocent curiosity, before she had introduced me to her friends.

Later a dear friend helped me understand some of the lies I had believed. I’d always thought that each of us has only one significant love in life, and that I had my quota in Vicki. It’s that stupid “soul-mate” thing. I thought, “I’ll have to settle for companionship.” What bunk. I was so deceived.

Some months later that hurt lady contacted my district’s headquarters. She sent copies of our emails, and pictures of us together. She said, “You ought to know what kind of man Lowell Qualls really is.” I don’t blame her. I blame me.

I know there are fellow ministers reading this right now saying, “Wait a minute! Don’t be so hard on yourself. You were lonely after being married for a long, long time. You made a mistake. It’s okay. Everybody makes them.” Blah, blah, blah.

I wish I hadn’t hurt this lady. I wish I could have gone mano-a-mano with my ego in some wilderness. But … hear me now … I needed this. This reality check. This humiliation. This breaking. This ugly exposure of my heart. I needed my day of reckoning.

Why? First, because I thought I was immune – that I would never do what others have done. Second, because my heart was hard. Third, because I was a train wreck in the making, one of those men who thought he could stop himself – one of the biggest lies of all. I know now that more than “my calling” or “my ministry” being at stake, my life was in danger.

My superintendent called. He sounded glum. We were (and still are) friends of many years, but he had a terrible job to do. He had to ask me “the questions,” starting with: “Did you do what she said you did?”

Yes.

Two weeks earlier I had confessed to Becky. I had met her two months after my failure. Her reaction surprised me. Instead of rejecting me she was actually the first conduit for God’s grace to begin its healing work in me. She and I talked about perfectionism, self-esteem, sin, love, and forgiveness. She prayed for me.

Months went by. During that time my district leaders interviewed my accuser, corroborated her testimony, sent me for an evaluation to a fantastic Christian counseling center in Akron, Ohio, and delved into my version of the events in question.

I wrote out my confession and surrendered my credentials. I cried myself to sleep several nights, and wrestled with my blankets, tossing and turning and reliving the nightmare.

Finally, the district graciously offered me a two-year program. The goal? Restoration. I gratefully accepted, and told Becky what I was facing. She said, “I’m on your team.” (We married six months later, with the blessing of the district leaders. In so doing I left that wrong-headed notion of “just-one-love-in-life” where it belonged: at the foot of the Cross.)

It was right at the beginning of that awful period that I talked to my parents face to face, with my older sister listening in on the telephone from Florida. My saintly dad concentrated on every word as I detailed my failure, all the while his eyes locked on my mom. After I finished he spoke sweetly, while still looking at mom: “Son, your mother and I have been married for 64 years … and if she died … and I found myself in the place you have been …” He looked me straight in the eyes now. “… I would have done the very same thing.”

I was taken off guard, and deeply touched. Yet what followed was even more poignant. “I don’t condemn you,” he said.

Grace.

And my sister in Florida? It was really tough telling her what I had done. Many years ago her first husband, an A/G pastor, had an affair, refused rehabilitation, and they divorced. Now she is married to a great guy – the pastor of a non-denominational church in Orlando. My confession brought back some painful memories, but her response was lovely, and loving, too. Graceful.

Next I called my older brother, an Assemblies of God pastor in Virginia Beach, and told him everything. He was wonderful. He prayed for me, and told me he was proud of me. How odd: I was ashamed, but he was proud? Unlike the prodigal’s older brother, mine put out the spiritual welcome mat as I stumbled home.

Again, grace.

Then I called each of my three younger sisters. I dreaded talking to one. She had also been married to an Assemblies of God pastor who had fallen into sexual sin a few years ago. And like the other aforementioned brother-in-law, he had walked away from the denomination and the offering of rehabilitation. I knew telling his ex-wife, my sister, would be hell.

Yet she was so tender in her response, soft and careful, like a child gently touching the wound of a fallen playmate. She sweetly reassured me that I was loved.

When you take one little bite of forbidden fruit innocent people suffer. Elderly parents experience unnecessary pain. Siblings get hurt. And then your colleagues find out. They always do.apple-_2.jpg

We all get caught, you know. God pretty much guarantees it. Sooner or later, “What is done in secret …” You know the rest.

It isn’t that God enjoys exposing our nakedness, or because He wants to use our pain to fire a warning shot across the bow of the Church. We get caught because He values our souls more than our comfort. Ultimately we get caught because He loves us. He’s a Fighter, unwilling to let us go down the drain without a brawl. He fights with us, for us. You’ve probably preached that a hundred times.

You’ve probably also preached that when you throw in the towel and surrender, acknowledging that He’s the Winner, He pours out His grace and heals broken lives!

Here’s the rub. It’s time for us preachers to believe what we’ve preached.

Maybe you haven’t yet risked the confession that would set you free to begin the process of restoration because you know God doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay in the ministry. Maybe you haven’t come clean because “doing ministry” has become more important than living in sweet relationship with God. Maybe you’re unwilling to gamble your paycheck, your housing allowance, or your retirement account. Maybe you fear your marriage won’t survive the embarrassment, or your kids won’t recover from the shame.

I understand, believe me. It’s tough to come clean when all God guarantees us is that His “grace is sufficient,” or that His strength is perfect when we admit our weaknesses.

Here’s why I’m writing: Learn from me. If you haven’t crossed the line from temptation to sin, don’t! But if you have crossed it, come clean. Now. Prove God, and come clean. Face the challenges that will come when you decide to ‘fess up. Face them with Him.

Most likely confession will require you to fully expose the lie you’ve lived, embrace certain humiliation, and surrender your reputation, your economic future, and all your relationships to God. It was Jim Elliott who said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Said another way, confession may require you to lose something you think you can’t live without in order to gain something else you really can’t live without. Can you really live without a clean conscience? Without your integrity? Without the kiss of God, and His embrace? Can you really live without His presence in your life?

I keep thinking about Psalm 24:3-6, where David sang, “Who may climb the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies. They will receive the LORD’S blessing and have right standing with God their Savior. They alone may enter God’s presence and worship the God of Israel.”

Did David write that song pre- or post-Bathsheba? Did that event haunt David as he penned those words, or were they written beforehand?

No matter. We know David’s pride led to sexual sin and the subsequent murder of an innocent man. We know David got caught, and that he was outed. Humiliated. His sins were broadcast by the media of his day, and then recorded for all time in the pages of the most widely read book in history. Sermons about the consequences of pride would be preached using him as an example for three thousand years (and counting).

David’s soul was much more important to God than his position as Israel’s King. And there’s more than a hint in Scripture that David learned this truth: It is better to be caught and re-stored than to get away with adultery and murder.

I suspect some might think, like I did, “Why open Pandora’s box? Why not just wait until the truth catches up with me? Who knows? Maybe I won’t get caught, and I can clean up my act with nary a disruption in ‘my ministry.’” After all, once the story’s out, there’s no turning back. It’s public domain.

My new wife asked me, “Why do this? And why use your real name? It’s not a part of your prescribed therapy.”

I told her that I thought I must do it this for as part of my personal restoration. It has nothing to do with my denomination. It has everything to do with that immaterial part of me that must change. You see, once my story is out Satan can’t use it to batter and abuse me. He can’t use it to hold me captive to that what-if-someone-finds-out thing that always handcuffs a prideful soul. So the telling is part of my humiliation. Self-imposed, yes, but necessary.

There’s a half-truth Satan keeps using, generation after generation, that says public confession is like penance, where we engage in self-flagellation. He lies that it’s the confessor’s best way to satisfy the “need” to pay for his own sins. He tell us that by climbing up on a self-constructed cross and crying, “Mea culpa,” we experience absolution.

The truth is, Christ’s Cross was enough for salvation. Period. Yet, throughout the New Testament we are consistently encouraged to take responsibility for sin committed after entering into a saving relationship with Jesus, and we do so through confession. Take a long look at, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” That was written to believers, right?

Then there’s, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Again, written to believers. According to 1 John 1:5-7, confession allows us to come out of the shadows and “walk in the light” with Jesus (“… as He is in the light”). Part of walking with Him is living a confessing life.

So … what are you going to do now?

Why not make an appointment with a trusted friend. Start the process of coming clean. Risk humbling yourself. Risk trusting God for the outcome.

Today I’m doing better than okay. Sure, I’m not pastoring, and right now I’m not free to teach or preach. But I can confess, and it feels great!

A pastor-friend of mine in Florida says, “I wouldn’t trade being able to look in the mirror, first thing in the morning, at a man with clear eyes and a clean conscience for anything.” I know what he means. I wouldn’t trade my newfound sense of God’s unconditional love and grace for any pulpit, anywhere. I wouldn’t trade the solid relationships that I have now. And I wouldn’t trade having clean hands and a pure heart before God.

Think about it: A downfall starts with one little bite … but restoration can begin with one simple appeal: “God, help me. I’m coming clean.”