Monthly Archives: August 2012

Modeling Christ

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

-Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:1

Paul did something I have not seen others do.  He offered himself as the model of what a Christ follower should look like.  As I read these words this morning they once more stopped me to think about what that would look like in my life and yours.

Paul was so confident that he understood the Christ life and was living it that he invited others to follow him and imitate his life.  “Boys, just watch me and do it like I do it” would be Paul’s words to a young disciple.

It demands two important things in a life, 1. that you know what a life lived as an imitator of Christ looks like, and 2. that you are actually living that way.  It demands a clear map of the route and a confidence you are on the path as a disciple yourself…that you are in fact imitating Christ.

But this is exactly what we are supposed to be doing in our lives, isn’t it?  Dads, are you telling your sons and daughters, “just watch me live the Christian life and you will be ok”?  Pastors, are you inviting others to follow you around and imitate your life, your words?  You should!

Paul has given us the foundational principle of discipleship- modeling.  “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” are heady words to say to someone.  It means you must know where you are going, what it looks like, and actually be going the right way. It means you know that others are watching you, following you, imitating you.

If someone is imitating your life will they get it right? Will they be a follower of Christ or a deformed version of one?  Have you invited someone to imitate you as a Christ follower?  If not, what do you need to change? Where are you going that you wouldn’t want another to follow?  Are you modeling Christ for others to follow?

This is our greatest need in the church today…men and women following Christ and inviting others to imitate them in the way.  What do you need to change to make that offer to another?  Could it be that most of us don’t know where we are going in the first place?  If you have never offered this invitation to another what must you change to invite another to follow you?

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”  What an amazing invitation from the pen of Paul.  I’ve never been invited to follow another in this way, nor have I made the invitation.  I wonder what would change if we did…….and this very discussion is the reason a pastor’s fall is so devastating to a church.  He is the one we are following.  When we discover he is not on the right path it brings disappointment, confusion and loss of faith.

We, as pastors, are to model Christ.  When we don’t the disaster that follows is devastating.

Shame

We are a proud race.

We all try to look good to others.

Pastors are not exempt from this pride.  We are not only playing to the congregation, but we are “competing” with other pastors around us.  Pride is a wicked master.  It focuses the camera on us and not on God, it responds to praise and avoids criticism.  Pride is one of the reasons that honestly about our sins is so hard.  We don’t want to deal with the results of sin in our lives.

The ugly side of pride is shame.  Our pride makes us hide our sins so no one will know, no one will find out.  In some way we think God doesn’t see either, but he does.  And in the revelation of our sins shame comes.  A shame that we have lost the admiration of others, but hopefully also a shame for what we have done.  There are two sides to shame, the shame of loss and the shame of sin.  One is healthy, the other is not.  When sin is revealed and shame is part of our new reality the number one task is to come before God on our knees and share with God all that pride and sin have done.  He already knows, but there is no better way to deal with shame than to open it up  before God.

Shame dealt with well brings repentance.  Shame dealt with badly is just another face of pride.  When sin is revealed the best response for any of us is simply this, “Lord, I am the man.  I deserved the cross you bore for me.  Thank you that you have already forgiven me because of what Christ has done.  I am sorry.  Let this shame I feel bring me before you in repentance each time it comes and let me become one who rejoices in your grace once more.”

Use your shame rightly.  Realize there are two sides to this thing called shame.  One is an aspect of pride that wants to hide what we have done.  The other is a right response to our sin and makes room for the restoration God wants to accomplish in our lives.

You need to know that shame is a healthy part of any sin.  It’s how you respond to the shame you feel that makes such a difference in the outcome of your life and walk with God.

Bill’s story

Often I get notes from pastors who have fallen.  They tell me of their odyssey and how they are doing now.  This morning I received a note from Bill with his story.  I asked his permission to share it here because he has done the difficult things, he has returned home to his church to find restoration.  (On a personal note let me extend high praise to Bill’s church for how they have handled all of this.) Here is Bill’s story in his own words,

I have been reading your blog this morning as I sit at my new job as a teacher for a Junior High School.  I feel like there is so much I would like to say but will save opinions until I am asked.   I will give you a synopsis for what I have done and what I am doing and the path it took to get here….

My failure has been my entire life.  I was taken as a child and put into foster care and orphanage at an extremely young age.  I have no bad memories at all of my early childhood as I have no memories at all up to the age of 5, the day I moved in with a family that became my home.  I had no idea that my biggest wound and hurt was neither my foster days nor the orphanage.  My biggest wound was brokenness of Intimacy and trust that honestly I never even knew I had.  All I knew was that everyone else was valuable and wanted and I wasn’t.  So I worked very hard at everything I did, including my faith.

Ok, so here is my story…

This past December (2011) I called my wife and told her I needed to talk with her.  We got in the car and drove to a nearby parking lot where I told her I answered an ad on Craigslist and the woman who responded was trying to embezzle me for money to keep silent.  She told me everything about my life (she had researched me) and wanted money to keep quiet.  I told my wife that I was not going to give her anything and that I wanted to come clean about my life.  I did not confess much at all, I actually lied and made it seem like this was a porn issue.  I told her I wanted to tell the leadership of our church, knowing I would be fired.  She was very concerned about me doing this but I told her I really wanted to get some counseling about some deep seeded wounds from my childhood.  She agreed and we told the leadership.

The leadership at first said they would let me resign and would give me a severance for time served (over 8 years) and would pay for counseling.  I was so excited!  What happen next rocked my world and my family’s world.  The pastor asked if there was anything on my computer that was inappropriate, as he would be having it analyzed by professionals to make sure.  I told him there should be nothing on it.  I don’t know if it was denial or my mind blocked out what I had done on the computer but I wasn’t trying to lie I just really didn’t think there was anything on it.  Three days later I was called to a meeting and they had opened all my personal emails that I had through yahoo.  They knew everything…. completely!  They then told me they had gotten my wife from work so I could tell her everything.  I did this and fell apart!  They took me to a hospital because I wanted to die.  They admitted me to a mental hospital for 4 days to make sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. I really didn’t want to kill myself I just didn’t want to live anymore.

While in the hospital the leaders of the church and my wife discussed what to do about me.  They sought council and decided it would be best to send me away to an inpatient program designed for addictions.  This was a Christian based place just north of Atlanta, GA. I spent the next 3 months there.

While in Atlanta this is what I experienced…

– I hit rock bottom and truly repented and confessed fully my sins.

-20 plus hours of 1 on 1 counseling

-480 hours of instruction in a classroom setting

-No less than 100 hours of group counseling

-I discovered my woundedness and got professional help in understanding myself

-Read 12 books assigned me about sexual brokenness

-Did a full disclosure to my wife who flew in to see me

-Experienced a public confession of what I had done

-Did counseling with my children

-Had a touch from the creator of the universe

-Came to peace with trusting God about my family

-And so much more!

I say all that to say – I did the hard stuff to the best of my ability.  I was there with 25 others who I can honestly say never reached brokenness – but I was broken fully!

When I left my church the pastor was angry and told me I could not set foot on church property again.  He said this out of his anger and honestly felt like I had lied and deceived him about the computer and therefore was protecting the church.  I understood this and agreed.

While I was away the church leadership was amazing.  They demonstrated the love of Christ for my wife.  They paid for her and my children to fly to see me and get the counseling we needed.  They helped her with bills and truly loved my family while I was getting help.

While away, I felt God was telling me to quit hiding.  I felt like God wanted me to return to my community, where I was very well known and my sin was public knowledge (a letter was sent to the congregation about my failure).  I moved home to the town in which I failed.  I went to the leadership team and apologized. I told them all that I had experienced.  They welcomed me back to the church as a part of the body.

This is what I did…

-I got a job

-I attended a small group with my wife (they embraced and loved us)

-We attended Sunday Morning worship (very difficult)

-I met with different men every day for the first 2 months for accountability

-I met with a staff member 1-3 times a week for the first 3 months

-I went to counseling weekly

-My wife and I went to counseling together

-My wife went to counseling

-I lived with friends for the first 2 months I was back and spent the day at my home

-I continued my care with the program I left (weekly call and journaling)

-I continued reading and learning about myself

I have learned so much about who I am and about my wounds.  It’s very sad to think that I was extremely successful as a pastor while all along being so wounded.  I am now healing and free from some deep issues in my life.  I believe God has so much more for me and I am excited to see what they are, BUT for now I am being obedient in living in my community where everyone knows what I’ve done and I’m working hard on my family, with my wife, and in my relationship with God.

I know its unusual for a pastor to come back to his hometown and walk it out in front of his congregation (by the way I was the youth pastor) but I feel like this is what God has called me to do.  My desire is to walk out restoration fully – whatever that may mean!

I am willing to answer any questions.  I share my story with any who desire to hear it.

In Christ and Living Free,

Bill

Your experiences

Many are stopping by to read this blog.  That’s encouraging.

Many are suffering from the fall of a pastor.  That’s not encouraging.

Some don’t know what to do next…stay in the church, leave, give up on God completely.  That’s discouraging!

What is your experience?  What is happening in your life as you travel this difficult road?  Take a moment, if you stopped here on purpose, and share your story.  It helps others to know they are not alone in this difficult walk.

Condemnation

There is an amazing story in John 8 of a woman caught in adultery….in the very act!  The Jewish leaders bring her to Jesus with the intention of trapping him.  The woman was just a pawn to them in their quest to destroy Jesus and his ministry.  Her life, her situation and what had happened didn’t matter to them.  She was caught in sin and now what would Jesus say about it?  By the way…where was the man?  Where was the man she was caught with?  Both of them should have been brought to Jesus for condemnation, but they had only brought the woman.  The whole situation looked very suspicious at best.

You can read the story yourself, but at the heart of it were Jesus words of grace to this woman caught in sin, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”  He forgave her.  He extended grace to a woman who needed it desperately.  Did she know she was in the wrong?  Of course!  There was no solution for her unless someone forgave her.  This is what Jesus did…he forgave her sin.

How do we treat the fallen ones in our midst?  Are we like the Jews looking for a way to stone the wretched sinner or are we emulating Jesus and forgiving the sins of the one caught in sin?  Forgiveness isn’t giving approval for the sin, forgiveness never validates sin, but it deals with it in the right way.  Forgiveness demonstrates the love and nature of God in reaction to sin.

The right response to the fall of a pastor is not condemnation but forgiveness.  Are we condoning the sin by forgiveness?  Not at all!  We acknowledge the sin and deal with it as Jesus did…..we forgive.  Condemnation or forgiveness?  The results will be completely different…one path a model of Christ-like love, the other a perfect model of self-righteous religion. Forgiveness heals, condemnation destroys.  Forgiveness restores, condemnation alienates.  The divide between the two couldn’t be more dramatic.

At all costs avoid condemnation!

No Simple Lives

One thing I’ve noticed about people is that things are never simple. I think it’s because we are not simple. Our lives are made up of hundreds of nicks and bruises we have each experienced. All those blows, bad relationships, disappointments and life experiences make us who we are and it’s never simple to sort out.
A few weeks ago, as I listened to a couple working through some real problems in their marriage, I thought….”this is really complicated. There are no easy answers.” Honestly, I think that same thing almost every time I talk with someone. It’s difficult to sort out all the pieces of our lives that have brought us to where we are today. How do we get it all tied together so we aren’t tripping over ourselves? How do we work through all that we are to fix what we have become? Honestly, there are no simple lives. There are no simple answers.
But as I watch Jesus in the gospels I see his encounters with people in a different way. The difference is that he knew the heart of man and was able to go to the very heart of each person’s problem. With a word, a touch, a smile Jesus healed broken lives. He knew what each life needed.
Here is a story of one man’s encounter with Jesus. In this brief encounter Jesus meets the needs of this broken man,
Mark 1:40-45- 40A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (If you are willing. It’s almost a question, Are you willing? Not can you help me? but will you help me? The most important question is this one, Lord, will you help me?)41Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (The compassion of Jesus brought a response that I’m sure no one expected. In fact this leper was in front of Jesus contrary to the law that would keep him apart from others who didn’t have leprosy.)

42Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

43Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44“See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”45Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

This story is one of my favorites in the gospels. It’s a story of the prayer we have all prayed, “if you are willing.” We wait, hoping God is indeed willing to meet our needs, but he does so much more. This man had been without a human touch, without real love and without acceptance for so long that his first need, in spite of his obvious illness, was a touch. In that amazing moment of time Jesus did the unthinkable….he reached out and touched this dirty, diseased man. The touch did so much more than heal the disease, it healed the whole man.

Like this poor leper in Mark we each come to Jesus with all our sickness and disease visible for all to see…the bible calls it sin. Our plea is simple, if you’re willing you can make me clean, you can forgive my sins. And with a touch…that amazing touch….we each find healing and forgiveness.

As a result of that touch and the love of Jesus to meet this man’s needs a great exchange happened. It happens with us when we trust him. Some call it the exchanged life and indeed it is. But with this man the exchange was dramatic. The man who had lived alone and removed from mankind was now among them. Talking, touching, hugging and telling everyone about Jesus to such an extent that Jesus had to go to the wilderness away from mankind and even there the people, all in need of his touch, sought him out.

Mankind is still asking this man’s simple question, “If you are willing you can make me clean.” And his response is the same, with a touch of his hand he replies, “I’m willing, be clean.” And so, with all our warts and wrinkles, all our problems and struggles Jesus comes to touch the hurting and heal each one. If you’re wondering if he can fix your messy life just ask him. You’ll be amazed at the smile, the touch, the acceptance and the reply, “I’m willing, be clean.”

The Pastor

The week after our earthquake, the revelation of our pastor’s sin, we invited another pastor and friend to speak.  He’s a well known pastor, radio speaker and friend to our ministry.  If I mentioned his name you would know him.  In his message he said something very important.  He said, “The pastor of this church is not gone.  He is still in charge, still here.  The pastor of this church is Jesus Christ.”

I’m sure I haven’t communicated his words as well as he did, but the point is this- even with the loss of a pastor to the sin of adultery this is still Christ’s church.  He is still the pastor, still the Lord.  He is still our head, still in charge.  Men and women serve him together, once in a while a pastor will fail his calling, but the pastor of the church, Jesus Christ, is still our head.

Far too often we put a gifted speaker, a loved pastor in a place of high honor and think he is more than he really is.  Each of us at our best is a fallen, broken man or woman trying to serve the God of creation.  Why God set things up this way amazes me.  He could easily do all of this much better himself, but he chooses to use us cracked pots and broken vessels to teach his word.  All this to say when a pastor falls look up, the true pastor of your church, Jesus Christ, is still in charge.  Trust him, seek him, and let him lead you through these difficult days.