"What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemption of other souls?—or a polluted soul, towards their purification?"

This blog has been moved to www.fallenpastor.com.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Site

I'm moving my home from Blogger to Wordpress. More importantly, I've dropped the pseudonym. Head on over to Wordpress and check it out.

It's irritating but necessary. www.fallenpastor.com will automatically direct you there.

Here's the new site: http://fallenpastor.wordpress.com/

New announcements will soon follow. Thanks!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Proverbial Cat And The Bag

Well, the proverbial cat is out of the bag. It was coming, I suppose. But I'm glad it came on my terms.

A few days ago, before I archived my blog, I told my ex-wife Angelica about my blog. She took it real well. I had to tell her because of the book I'm developing with my publisher.

It was actually a lot off my mind. She was very supportive of all of it.

It's also going to be a matter of time as well that I come full out on this blog. Not that it really matters, I suppose. It's not going to turn out that I'm a high ranking Senator, Bruce Wayne, or Andy Stanley.

I'm just pleased that over the past year and a half I've been able to encourage so many people, that so many have felt they could contact me, and that people have enjoyed my blog. Just don't be disappointed when you find out I really am weak.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Out With The Old

I just finished archiving all my old posts.

That means they're not there anymore. Sorry about that.

My story as I originally wrote it doesn't exist on this blog anymore. However, stay tuned. I'm going to summarize it again soon in a much shorter way.

Things are changing rapidly for me in this world and God is giving me the opportunity to minister to a lot of people.

Hopefully, there will be some big announcements here soon, so stay tuned. Thanks to all of you who read this blog and pray for us continually. I know who you are and you are greatly appreciated.

To those fallen pastors out there who read and have reached out, I continually pray for you.

To those fallen pastors who read and haven't reached out, I'm here for you. I know it's hard and I know you think no one cares. I care. And I know it hurts. There's a large brotherhood of us out there. And I'm working on a way to connect all of us together.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Calling All Fallen Pastors

Fallen ministers, I need your help.

I've been blessed with a great opportunity to write a book. The book is about how it is difficult for fallen pastors and churches to reconcile because churches tend to place their pastors on a pedestal.

In the book, I'm going to include real stories from fallen pastors. I can keep them anonymous if need be, but I need to interview as many fallen pastors as I can.

If you're willing to share your story with me, or know someone who might be interested, please leave a comment below or Twitter message me.

Thanks to all, Arthur.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Practice Of Love

I'm pleased to let you know about a book published by Civitas Press that is being released on May 1, entitled "The Practice Of Love: Real Stories Of Living Into The Kingdom of God."

It's a collection of essays about people practicing the love of Christ. I usually don't recommend books to you, but I have a selfish motive for this one.  I wrote an essay for it.

I've been spotty in my posting lately because I've been doing some writing on the side. My mother was an author and I remember the process she had to endure to get books published. She'd send off manuscripts and query letters by the dozens to only get a barrage of rejections, but she'd press forward.

For me, in this information rich age, the process was easier and I thank God for His mercy and the people at Civitas. I made a comment in a post one day about writing and was contacted the next day by the editor at Civitas Press. They have a heart for writers and good writing. Jonathan Brink, the editor, has made me into a better writer with a lot of input.

I was asked to write a submission on what it means to love oneself. At first, I inwardly scoffed at the idea. I thought, "I love myself just fine, maybe too much." But the request came at a time when I was struggling with reconciling with people I had hurt through my fall.

While writing my submission, I had a breakthrough and realized that I had spent a lot of time beating myself up over sins that God had already forgiven me for. I realized that Christ loved me despite my sin and that He had freely forgiven it. On the other hand, I still hated myself for what I had done. That was the basis for my essay.

I hope you'll buy the book which is available through the publisher and will also soon be available on Amazon. Either way, thank you for taking the time to be a faithful reader.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Candy Crosses

About three years ago, I got into a fierce Facebook argument over Easter candy. Yeah, it was kinda stupid.

A friend of mine posted a picture of "candy crosses" on his Facebook page and asked people what they thought of a crucifix made of chocolate. Oh, yeah, I had an opinion. You bet I did.

But I waited for the first Suzy Sunday School to post her "bright and happy" opinion before I tore her up.

She said something like, "I don't see anything wrong with it. It's just candy and it teaches our kids about Jesus. It's harmless."

I was dripping venom on my keyboard as I responded with something like this: "The Roman cross was a tool of torture that killed our Savior. And we make it into a chocolate confection? Is that really what we should do to celebrate Resurrection Sunday? Let me give you the modern crossover. How about we make little chocolate electric chairs filled with creamy filling? Or lethal injection kits with injectable raspberry goodness?"

Yeah, tactless. And a huge conversation ensued.

But it's three years later and I've changed my mind. I think we should keep candy crosses around.

On my way to church each Sunday, I've got about a 30 minute drive and I love to listen to the AM band on the radio. (Not to mention the junk that's on television each morning.)

The gospel is hardly being preached. Jesus is presented as someone who wants to make us prosper. It's a false gospel meant to make us well, meant to make us rich, meant to make us the happiest people on planet earth.

That's not the gospel.

The gospel is our Savior crucified for our sins, in our place.  We were once the enemy of God but we can now come to Him because of what Jesus did. He doesn't promise an easy life, but suffering if we follow Him.

So we need to keep the candy crosses around. Know why? Because our poor, pitiful modern church has created some pathetic versions of a confectionery, fake Jesus that need to be crucified on them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Learning From Chris Brown: Moving Past Ourselves

Singer Chris Brown sat down with Robin Roberts of Good Morning America yesterday for an interview before he sang a single from his new album, "F.A.M.E."

Roberts asked Brown about his past with singer Rihanna and the restraining order that was placed against him due to violence against her. Brown was agitated with the questions, performed his song, then went to his dressing room and allegedly busted out the window.

Here's the video of the interview:

I don't have a dog in the hunt because I don't really care about the entertainment industry as a whole. It did cause me reflection on my own life, however.

Brown said that "F.A.M.E." stood for "Forgiving All My Enemies." I don't know what sparked the dressing room melee, but it seems it was the questioning by Roberts about his past. Maybe I'm wrong.

I am sympathetic towards him in his journey, however. I'm not sympathetic towards his sin. I was where he was at one point. I can identify with his frustration.

At one point, I thought I had moved past my adultery, humbled myself, and was in a place where I was moving on enough to talk to people at my former church. I thought that if the topic of my former sin was brought up, or if I was confronted with it, I would be fine and could let it roll off my back. Even if someone told me what a wretch I was and wanted to hound me about it (which Roberts wasn't doing, in my opinion), I would be okay. I thought I could just smile and own up.

But I was wrong. I was fooling myself. That process took much longer than I thought. It takes a humbling work of God to show us that we are prideful people who need to confess that we are lowly people who have much work to do.

Sometimes, deep within us, we still hold on to the idea that despite our awful sin, we were somehow right. Sure, circumstances may occur to lead us in a certain direction in life. And at times, people may treat us poorly after we sin, but sin is still sin.

Until we take ownership of that sin and confess it and say, "You know what? Sin is sin. I messed up," we can never really "forgive all our enemies." We will never be able to look them in the eye with the confidence that Christ has forgiven us, even if they persecute us.

Because when Christ has forgiven, who is left to condemn us?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stress And Fasting

Ever have a lot of stuff hit you at once?

Of course you do. It's called life. I've got about eight projects going on right now that I need to finish yesterday.

One of the ones I'm really anticipating is that I've been asked to preach next month. I haven't preached in almost a year. I miss preaching. It's at the church Cynthia and I used to go to when we first go married.

I made amends with the pastor and I'm planning on going there and giving my testimony on my fall. I'm not giving gory details, but I do plan on telling them about how despite our sin, Christ does forgive and cover all of our sins. I'm nervous, yet excited.

It's one thing to be transparent on a blog, but it's another thing to open your life, soul and heart in front of a congregation. Most of the people there didn't know I fell. I have the feeling they'll be understanding.

I also know that hearing the story of forgiveness from Scripture might help some of them as well. But then again, they might light torches and chase me out of there. Who knows? No, of course they won't. They're great people and will be very supportive.

I've just been under a huge amount of stress lately at my work and with other projects. So, I decided to fast. Which isn't easy with a lifelong health condition I have. However, fasting is extremely important.

I read a book by John Piper on the subject once and I'm loosely paraphrasing his definition here. He said that fasting gets our focus off the gifts and puts our mind on the giver of the gifts. I enjoy the process of fasting.

As consumeristic (is that a word?) Americans, we're so tied down on eating and gluttony. We have drive-thrus so we don't have to get out of the car. We go to the grocery store and the junk food is stacked on the end of the aisle. The candy is right next to the register. The restaurants have buffets for us so we can keep shoveling it in. And those things aren't bad, trust me. I love the convenience.

But once in a while, I have to remind myself that the gift of food is just that - a gift. I have to concentrate on the giver of those things. And when I do, I break free of those bonds and pray for a few days and thank Him. After the initial hunger goes away (and it takes a while), it's easier to focus on Him and what He wants me to do.

Check out Piper's book, "A Hunger For God," if you can. It's available on Kindle as well. (I don't get a kickback either.) Usually you can buy it from his website for cheaper. If you can't afford it, you can call them and work something out with them.

So if you're feeling stressed, realize that it may be because you're too focused on the world. Take time to focus on the Giver of all that is good.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Slow Redemptive Process

I don't know why, but I've been dreaming about my mother a lot lately. That, and she's been on my mind. She died in an accident a few months before my fall. She wrote a few books. It might be because I'm writing a lot lately.

It might be because I'm slipping into depression. It may just be because I miss her. Maybe it's all of those things.

God has a way of bringing hope to us when we're at our worst.

This weekend, Cynthia's daughter had a birthday.

Last year at this time, the kids we usually would have invited didn't get invited because their families were very upset with us because of my fall at Angel Falls Baptist. I can't say I blame them.

Barry, her father, who had twice committed adultery and been arrested, had a birthday party elsewhere for her. The church people had no problem attending that party. Again, I can see where they were coming from.

A year removed, things are slightly better. When I talk about those families, they are all people that Cynthia's daughter is related to by blood. When we've seen them at the grocery store, most of them ignore us, and a couple have spoken to us.

That's progress as far as I'm concerned.

Especially when I've heard fallen pastors tell me to never expect any type of reconciliation. Ever. I just don't buy it. I'm sure there will be a great number who will never want to see me or Cynthia again. But as long as I live, I simply cannot believe that it is God's will to give up on the process of reconciliation.

The week before her birthday, we got a text from one of the women who hasn't spoken to us asking what Cynthia's daughter might want for her birthday. We quickly invited them to the party. We also invited Marlee and Rich whom we had seen recently. We were hopeful and cautiously optimistic.

The day came and guess what? Everyone came. Our family and the former church members we invited. The best part? We all acted like normal human beings.


I asked all these people, by letter, twice for forgiveness. I would love to hear from each of them, "Bro. Arthur, I forgive you."

But it's not going to happen.

But you know what can happen and what is almost just as good?

To be treated like a human and not a fallen pastor. To be looked in the eye again (which most of them did). To be talked to like I'm just another sinner trying to make it in the world.

To have what happened Saturday. To talk about sports, kids, the weather, family, and nothing in particular.

For them to just take a few minutes to see that a pastor who commits adultery doesn't turn into the Antichrist. If anything, it's possible he becomes more human and more humble than he was before.

To me, that will pave the road to a new relationship. That will be just as good as, "I forgive you."

I hate it when I'm crying after I write a post.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Day In The Life

I write a lot about the trials I've been through and the mistakes I've made. I write about the effects those things have had on my life and hope it has helped others.

I write under a pseudonym to protect those I've harmed, my kids and just because I don't need the publicity in this area, frankly. It's a sensitive thing when a pastor falls and I've written about a lot of sensitive issues pertaining to my fall. Thanks for understanding that.

For one post, I'm going to step outside of all that and let you know what I do in a typical day without divulging too much information. As if you cared, really. I'm just a normal guy trying to make it in this lovely world.

It'll be kind of a mundane post. Maybe.

Cynthia wakes up early because she works early. Sometimes I get up and see her off, sometimes she lets me sleep in. But she always wakes me with a sweet kiss before she leaves.

When I rouse from my slumber, I call Cynthia at work then get some caffeine and take my daily medicine. I check my email on my iPhone then I go straight to the Internet to check my blog. I also check some of my favorite sites, including the news and favorite sports sites.

I don't watch TV much. Only if there's an interesting sporting event on.

If there are dishes or housework I think I can tackle, I'll do that. Sometimes, I'll ponder my blog and a topic, or I'll make some work calls.

Then, it's off to work. I've referenced that I do work in the medical field. I do. It's hands on and I love it. It's a second shift position and I work with a lot of people. I work in the community, indoors, outdoors, and come in contact with all sorts of people.

While I'm busy at work, Cynthia gets off work and heads home. We text a lot during the day and I love that. We're always finding an excuse to talk.

When I'm at work, I love to write or read. Right now, I'm reading Greg Boyd's "Repenting of Religion." I highly recommend it.

When I get bored at work, I'll make random phone calls to friends and irritate them for no reason.

Sometimes during the day, my mind wanders to my sin, or I'll miss my mom, or I'll think of sermons I'd like to preach one day. But my mind is never far from Cynthia.

Some days, work is long, depending on my schedule or the workload, and some days it's really short.

On my way home is when I pray a lot. It's a long commute on country roads and I get a lot of quiet thinking done.

Cynthia is always waiting for me with a smile and welcome home kiss. I check the Internet for an hour or so to unwind while she puts her daughter down and we unwind together.

In the evening, I always get a call or Skype from my girls and we talk for a little, unless it's my weekend to have them (and that's a different story).

I always look forward to cuddling next to my beautiful wife at night. We talk a lot, or share our worries. But she's my best friend. She's the love of my life and all I want to focus on at the end of the day.

I wait until she goes to sleep then I'll get the coffee pot ready for her for when she wakes up the next day and a lot of the time I'll make her lunch.

I don't sleep real well. I'm a night owl and wish I slept better. I average about six hours a night and wish I could do it better. But that's life, I suppose.

It's a routine, I guess. And there are what seem to be a lot of meaningless details to most people.

But to me, they're all very meaningful, God-sent, and blessed moments.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Why We're All Pharisees, Part Deux: We Are A Brood Of Vipers

Christ came primarily to earth to die in our place. He bore the weight of our sin and God's wrath.

However, in the meantime, He did a lot of other cool stuff. He taught, confronted, showed compassion,and loved.

One of the things He came to do was to destroy the political, social, and economic barriers that existed. I'm not arguing for a pure social gospel, although there are merits to that.

What I am saying is that Christ completely busted people's cliques, social circles, religious groupings, and safety nets. He especially concentrated on the Pharisees.

How many times did he tick those guys off? He blatantly broke their rules to prove points. He didn't wash hands like they wanted. He healed on the Sabbath. He spoke to tax collectors, Gentiles, adulterers, the infirm, and everyone else the Pharisees didn't want in their synagogue.

We read those stories in Sunday School, hear them preached and think two things.

First we think, "How dare those Pharisees act like that toward Jesus and those poor sinners!" Of course, we'd never do that. Would we?

Secondly, we think, "Well, those sinners must have been just fine after they met Christ. They must have said a sinners prayer or whatever we do these days and been right as rain."

As to the first statement, isn't it interesting how our churches look? I'm speaking in broad generalities, of course, but visit a church sometime and you won't see much different from one end of the spectrum to the other.

For instance, visit the local First Baptist and you'll likely find upper class to middle class people (and maybe a small percentage of lower middle class). They flock together in church. Just like our neighborhoods, we tend to live near people like us and we find people like us to worship with.

What's worse, there are some in church who will find the opportunity to look down on those who are less than them. The upper-class will look down on the middle or lower class.  The middle class will look down on the lower class and even be envious or judgmental of the upper class.

Take it a step further and visit a poor rural church filled with lower middle class to poverty level people. They might even have a somewhat wealthy family there that everyone looks up to (that even might run the show) that everyone is silently envious of. But some of the lower class will look down on the poverty stricken and the poverty stricken will look down on those lower than them.

It's our sinful, human nature. And it's Pharisaical.

The Pharisees were admired in their time for their wisdom. Not all of them were bad men. People came to them for life, religious, and practical advice. Unfortunately, their knowledge puffed them up and they began to look down on many people - the tax collectors, the sinful, the adulterous, the outcasts, and eventually Jesus.

It makes you wonder how the church today would treat Jesus if He came and visited our churches one Sunday. Would we recognize Him? Because I guarantee He'd bring people with Him we wouldn't want gracing the doors of our church.

He'd bring struggling homosexuals, those dealing with drug and alcohol addictions, prostitutes who are looking for the truth, strippers who are struggling to make ends meet and need help, ex-cons, the crippled, former pedophiles, and yes, people who had been caught in adultery.

Can you see it? Church people would be squirming in their seats.

What do we do with "those people" when they come to our churches today? We sent them off to counselors. We send them off to places where they can be "rehabilitated." Why? Because we don't want to have to deal with them.

Why? Because they don't belong in our worship circle. That, my friends, is Pharisaical. And that is counter to everything Christ taught us.

Let's take it one step further. We ought to be going out looking to win those people to Christ. To help them find the Savior who didn't just die for the white bread Christians in the nice neighborhoods, but for all men and women.

No wonder people reject church and Christ. They walk into our fellowships and see no one like them.

Christ sought out those who didn't look anything like the people in synagogue. Even the disciples chided him for his association with outsiders.

I'm guilty too. On three different occasions, I had three different people coming to Angel Falls who didn't fit the mold. I had a struggling alcoholic, an ex-Marine who had post-traumatic stress, and a family who lived out in the sticks who smelled really bad. I stood by all of them. I liked the fact that it made the congregation really uncomfortable. But they never lasted. I failed them.

As to the second point - that the sinners Christ met were instantly changed and were fine from that point forward - there's no evidence of that. Heck, even Peter struggled throughout the New Testament. He had to be publicly rebuked by Paul.

New Christians struggle. They fall again and again. And the church better be ready to pick them up and not give up.

We're so happy to see someone walk down the aisle and renounce their sin and follow Christ. To give up alcohol or a life of violence. But what happens when that person falls back a few months later and stops coming to church? A lot of churches give up.

Would Christ? No.

If Christ were here he'd probably look at a lot of us, sitting in our pews and say, "you hypocrites. You brood of vipers, you Pharisees. All of you are the same! I came for all of you in this community! Every single one of you is the same! I didn't come so you could sit stagnant in this place while the world is dying around you so you could watch it go to hell!"

I like to say that in our community, you can't throw a rock in the air without hitting a church or a Chinese restaurant. With so many churches, there has to be a place for all of these souls that need love and compassion.

Will we take the time to humble ourselves before Christ and recognize our Pharisaical attitude? Or will we continue on with business as usual? Will we continue to throw money at programs and let others do the work? Or will we begin to make our churches places where judgment is not leveled and where all may come to know Christ?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Favorite Theatrical Preachers: With Video Goodness

After a discussion with Cynthia recently, I realized that some of my favorite movies and television shows have some pretty crooked ministers in them.

At the heart of it, you know you really want a pastor/preacher with a mix of all these men. Admit it. It's okay. Sure, you want a man who preaches reformed theology. But you want him a "little off." Like these guys.

I've had some pretty heavy posts recently, so I thought I'd post my favorite ministers in the entertainment industry. With video evidence of course.

1. Eli Sunday - There Will Be Blood

This guy is phenomenal. He's a con-artist who works the congregation, he works a big time oil boss, but in the end, he blasphemes the God who made him his money - and gets himself offed by an Academy Award winner. Paul Dano, the actor, was nominated for a British Academy Film Award for his role. Best line I can't quote after this "sermon" that's not in this clip is from Lewis: "That was one gosh darn heck of a show."

Don't say that to your pastor.

2. Jonas Nightingale - Leap of Faith

Unbelievable performance of drama from the great comedian Steve Martin. He said he researched the part by watching Benny Hinn. I have watched this movie at least 60 times. And you can't beat a movie with Liam Neeson and Meat Loaf. Several great clips here: "Go ahead, tip the dancing bear." And, Martin's superior dialogue in this clip, "You wanna give up womanizing? Who you gonna talk to? Some pale skin virgin priest? If you wanna give up sin, you need a real sinner people..."

3. Fletch Lives - Jimmy Lee Farnsworth. Farnsworth has his own amusement park and is a Peter Popoff / Jim Bakker knockoff. In this scene, Chevy Chase's character improvises being a faith healer.

4. Elmer Gantry, Burt Lancaster - A con artist, alcoholic posing as a minister to get the woman. A great movie if you haven't seen it. Lancaster won best actor for his role.

Who knows what religion this guy is? But he's a sucker, an apparent ecumenalist and a ham. But we all can identify with his gaffes and poor judgment. Every pastor in America has been where this man has been. Surrounded by goofballs. Yet totally oblivious.

Bonus story: Once while I was visiting a church, a high school student played piano for the special music. I sat there and listened and the song sounded really familiar. He was smirking all the way through it. I looked at his buddies and they were laughing. Finally, I said to myself, "That's 'Stairway to Heaven'"

He got done and the place filled with "Amens" and he bowed to the congregation. That's the nice thing about playing to an over-60 crowd I suppose.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why We're All Pharisees, Part One: Introduction

I already hate this post. Not because of what it is, but because of what it could become.

There are a lot of angry bloggers out there. I've done some angry blogging. In the past, I've done some angry preaching. Any pastor worth his salt knows what I'm talking about.

It's easy to go online and rant on about "what's wrong with the church" and "what's wrong with _________ denomination" or "what's wrong with church people" and "this is why I left the church."

I don't want to be that guy.

However, I read a lot of blogs where people give very valid reasons for not wanting to be a member of the American church. Heck, I don't blame them, and I used to pastor one.

I do, however, want to preface my remarks with this - I love the church. She is the bride of Christ. In her glory and wonder, she is to be beheld in her beauty. She is to present herself to Him without blemish or mark. She is there to worship Him in spirit and truth.

She should place preaching as the center of worship and be a church local and universal - people who are gathered together, unified to love the Savior with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength.

Christ during His earthly ministry used the vehicle of the synagogue to preach and teach from. He did not reject the organized religious system outright, but established a church to honor and worship Him.

There's plenty of labels out there for people to be branded with, like it or not. Some people say, "I'm not of any denomination or label, I'm just a Christian." Right. Just open your mouth and let everyone know what you believe and you'll have a label soon enough.

I'm not emergent by any means. In fact, before my fall, I used to think they were awful. After my fall, and after following many of them on Twitter, I like them. I don't agree with a lot of them, but I see where they're coming from. I sense their frustration and see why they're doing what they're doing. It's frustration with church as it is and a desire to move forward, always seeking, always trying to do what they feel is best.

I know this frustration as well. It's a conversation that happens every day between pastors and between conservative seminary students. Do we abandon the church and start new ones or do we reform the ones we already have?

I think the core of the problem is deep. And it's within us. It's within every church in America. Well, most of them.

And it's not because of the church building, mind you. It's us. The members. The dysfunctional family.

I've heard different numbers tossed around by pastors since I can remember. Some pastors think that only 25% of the people in the pews are saved. Some are more optimistic and say 50%. If you ever get the gumption, ask you pastor how many people he thinks in your church are saved - by percent.

I don't even think it's a matter of who is saved in the church and who is not. I'd venture to guess that most of the people in the pews are saved, probably.

It's my conviction that we've become churches filled with Pharisees. I know this because I used to be one. And I still have a streak of Pharisaical attitude in me that I have to beat down with a ten-meter cattle prod at times.

Before I get on with the series, I'll tell you what got me thinking about it. I was exposed by a former church member at Angel Falls well before my fall. It's a story that I take no pride in.

I had a deacon once who left the church. He was a nominal deacon; meaning that he showed up to the meetings, never really took much to visiting, voted like everyone else, and was getting up in years. Once in a while he had an opinion, but he kept to himself.

One Sunday, he announced his resignation to the deacon body. All the deacons begged him to stay but he just said "it's time I move on to another church." We were a little shocked. He left that Sunday and began to attend another local church down the road.

I always knew he never really liked me. We talked face to face in a cordial manner, but he never really "took" to me. He had never said anything harsh to me, but there was an abrasive way about him.

I asked Phillip Townsend, chairman of deacons to go talk to him. He did, but he didn't say anything to Phillip.  So I called this deacon.

After five minutes on the phone, he finally said what he wanted to say, "Arthur, you're a Pharisee. You're a hypocrite. You say one thing and then you do something else."

Contrary to my attitude, I actually listened to him instead of defending myself. Typically, I would have shot off at the mouth and retaliated, but I asked him to explain. I was actually humble for once.

He referenced Leonard, the deacon who had been urged to leave the church after refusing to give to the cooperative program. He said he thought I should have stuck up for Leonard instead of help drive him out. He thought it was a double standard on my part and it made him sick.

For those of you who don't want to click the "Leonard" link, here's long story short: Leonard was a deacon who didn't want to give to the cooperative program. Church members were angry. Some left the church over it. I took hits over it for a long time. Leonard's wife went a little over the edge one night, Leonard got very personal with me, and I finally asked him to leave. Of course, this deacon knew none of these details.

This deacon thought I should have done everything in my power to help Leonard. He was probably right. I had acted like a Pharisee.

Even though this deacon wasn't privy to any of the inside information, I hadn't acted Christ-like in my decision. I wasn't long-suffering, but I made a decision that was based on my and the church's comfort.

I wasn't spiritually strong at the time. I had just lost my mother. Was that an excuse? I don't know. But I do know I didn't stand for Leonard. I didn't love him and carry him through like a Christian should. Christ would have.

Was it a difficult time and a horrible time that any pastor could have faced? Yes.

I'm not beating myself up for it anymore. However, it was the first time in my life that someone showed me that I was, in fact, more like a Pharisee than Christ.

I wasn't going out and helping hurting people. I was on the side of the establishment. I was looking out for the herd mentality.

And I'm afraid that's what's happening in the majority of our churches today. We're a bunch of Pharisees and we don't know it.

We think we're the group that Christ was blessing. But instead we're the group Christ was warning.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why Churches Aren't Growing: Transparency And The Fallen Church

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV)

I write a lot about reconciliation and forgiveness. There are several reasons for this.

First, I was horrible at it before I fell. I was an awful example to my family, my friends, and my congregation. I now know what it's like to be the one who desperately wants to be reconciled with people I have harmed.

Secondly, one of my reasons for blogging is that I want to see churches and fallen pastors reconcile. Some churches actually handle the process the right way. They approach the pastor when they discover his indiscretion, they help he and his family get help as they depart and stay in contact with him.

However, this is a rarity. Most churches harbor bitterness, anger, and never get over the event. I do not believe this is the will of Christ. As the verse above states (and many others), those who have been sinned against should be the initiators of reconciliation and forgiveness. As I have stated before, this does not mean letting the minister back to a place of authority necessarily, but it does mean love and forgiveness.

There are a lot of verses about forgiveness. Some put the onus on the one who sinned. But the verse above and others put the responsibility on the one who was sinned against. 

In the Southern Baptist Convention, there are literally hundreds of churches that have been hurt by fallen pastors. These churches have not made amends or reconciled with these pastors.

Do not hear me placing full blame on these churches. If you've read my previous posts on the matter, you will know that is not how I feel. These men fell and sinned. Sometimes, they get pompous after their fall and immediately try to return to ministry. They become recalcitrant and egotistical. I understand that.

However, there is a responsibility for churches to reconcile with fallen pastors.
The majority of our Southern Baptist churches are not growing. There are many reasons for this. Could I suggest that one of the many reasons for it is that we have a lot of junk in our souls that needs to be cleansed?

I know of one local church whose pastor left forty years ago on bad terms. He didn't even sin morally. It was just a bad situation where he got into an argument with a deacon and his family who "ran the church." Ever since that time, the church has replaced the pastor every three years like clockwork. The family who was "in charge" is still there running the show.

When you ask an outsider what is going on at that church they always point back at the event that happened forty years ago. That's a shame.

That makes me concerned about churches all across the nation. It makes me concerned about the church where I fell, and it is my fault. It makes me concerned about the churches where other pastors fell who haven't taken the time to heal or reconcile with the pastor.

Two things are happening in churches like that. First, a dynamic of distrust can set in where congregations will always have a weary eye of the pastor. And secondly, if the people never forgive, there is the constant sin of unforgiveness in the midst that will hinder worship, growth, and spiritual awareness.

I had a funny thought about evangelism as well. Would churches effected by a fall be less likely to evangelize? Would they be less likely to invite people in knowing that they might have potential sins to deal with?

Since I fell, I've been called a lot of things. Since I consider this a "family friendly" blog, I won't mention the not so nice ones.

However, the one thing I've been called most often on this blog is "transparent." I consider that a compliment, even though I'm hiding behind a pseudonym.

In our Southern Baptist churches, we do a superb job of putting on a "happy face" each Sunday. We sit up straight, sing when we're cued to, and shake hands.  

If you have kids though, you know that the ride to church is completely different. "Don't hit your sister! Be quiet back there! You'd better stop complaining about going to church! Don't act up during the sermon this week!"

And each Sunday during Sunday School a topic will come up and we'll shake our heads at the sinful topic brought up. Lust? "We shouldn't do that, but you know everyone struggles once in a while." Greed? "That's a terrible thing, we should store up our treasures in heaven." Anger? "Well, righteous anger is fine, but Jesus said love your neighbor."

What if we were transparent during Sunday School? Lust? "Yes, I fight it daily, friends. Each day I struggle. Will you please pray for me?" Greed? "I've run three credit cards past their limit and it's out of control." Anger? "Me and my wife are having problems. I need help from someone. Can anyone here help me?"

What about during the week? What if we acted at church like we did at work? What if the pastor walked in on us at our most sinful moment? What if people saw us worried about our finances, fighting with our spouses, angry with our co-workers, cussing at the mechanic who messed up our car, kicking the cat, etc.?

If we acted at church like we did during the week - now that would be transparent. To have people see us as we really are - broken, sinful, wrecked, miserable, depressed. Because under those Baptist smiles are broken, sinful people who really need help.

When I was a pastor and would go to my bi-vocational job, people would cuss in front of me without knowing I was a pastor. When they found out, they'd say, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were a preacher."

I'd say, "Why are you sorry to me? You didn't do anything to me. Be yourself."

Why don't we act around our church friends like we do around our weekday friends? Because we're hypocrites. We're not transparent.

But guess what? God sees right through us. And yet, He loves us still. He shows us grace and mercy.

But, if one of us sees a church member sin or a church leader fall, we judge them harshly. And quickly. And we gossip. No grace. No mercy. Only judgment.

Know why we're in decline? Because most of us (and I'm including myself in this) don't look a thing like Christ and His grace when it comes to dealing with one another, much less non-Christians.

We haven't forgiven those who have sinned against us. We harbor anger, bitterness and rage when long ago we should have reached out and shown mercy as Christ has shown to us.

But strangely enough, each of us will pile into our cars on Sunday, looking our best, put on our Baptist smiles and push down our troubles.

It doesn't have to be that way. If we were all transparent, if we left our Baptist smiles at the door, shared our hurts with one another, reconciled our pasts, then looked out into our community and realized that we're just like everyone else, we might just be fueled for evangelism.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:1 ESV)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

God's Answer For The Adulterer

For the past year and a half I have been beating my head against the wall over a theological point.

I love my wife, Cynthia. I have an astonishing love for her. I would lay down my life for her. I wouldn't change a thing about my love for her. What we have is real, amazing and I have always wanted a marriage like this.

At the same time, to get her, I broke God's law - the seventh commandment - to have her.

My previous marriage to Angelica ended in divorce after she and I found no reconciliation, I alienated and did horrible damage to my former congregation, I did disastrous harm to relationships within my own family, I hurt friendships with other pastors and those I have known for years, and tarnished my name within the community.

And above all else, my sin - the sin of adultery - was one among many of my sins - that sent Christ to His death on the cross at Calvary.  God's only Son died for that sin.

I will be horribly and terribly honest with you. And I'll even phrase it in the way that my current pastor said it. I sinned willingly and boldly in the face of God and stuck my middle finger in His face and said, "I don't care what you think, I don't care what your Word says, I'm doing this anyway."

And I'll even go a step further. I love Cynthia. I'm happier now than I've ever been.

Don't get me wrong. I still suffer from the pain I caused my God and the people I hurt. But I have the love a husband should have for His wife.

Under the watchcare of my current pastor, I feel I have repented and asked for forgiveness. I have gone to those who I have hurt and asked for forgiveness and received some of it.

Many of you who read this blog over the past year have called me out on some things. I've been accused of justifying my sin. At times, I have. And early on, I was attempting to.  

I'm sad to say it, but in a post on Bathsheba, that's exactly what I was doing. 

Now, as God has humbled me, as time has moved on since my fall, I have been overwhelmed by His grace and have found some solace.

However, as a theologian, I have always been troubled by one question. A question that has kept me up at night. A question that bothers me and Cynthia. A question that has rattled around in my mind and will not go away and finally came to the surface as I prayed on the way home from work the other night.

I prayed, "Lord, thank you for Cynthia and her wonderful love. Thank you for the gift of her. I wouldn't trade her for anything."

But then I prayed, "Lord, what do I do about the sin I committed to get her? I've already confessed it? It is a slap in your holy face. Your Son died for the sin that I committed. I don't feel like I deserve to be happy since my blatant, outright, stubborn, filthy sin led me to this point."

It is a difficult problem. It is seemingly impossible. I finally had to tackle it to find peace.

How can I dare be happy with her while knowing I committed a vile sin to be in her arms? A sin that sent Christ to the cross to bear the wrath of God? A sin I committed while pastoring a church?

I shared this with Cynthia. She said, "What about people who have children out of wedlock? They sin and get to go on. It's a sin yet they are happy to have the child."

She made a good point. But in a lot of adulterous affairs, many end up reconciling. Angelica and I did not.

In my own mind and in my seminary trained brain, I have, for lack of a better term, been trying to reconcile or justify my happiness with Cynthia versus my transgressions of God's law. It has not worked. It has failed miserably.

Then, I was struck with a thought.

It's not really about how I see it. It's not about how others view it. It's about how God sees it. I have to go to the Word.

But even then I still have to be careful, lest I bastardize God's Word to justify my sin. Too often, pastors (myself included), use God's Word as a tool for justification instead of allowing it to speak for what it says.

So where do I begin? With my sin. Yes, without a doubt, I broke God's law. There is no getting around it. I took into my arms a woman who was not my wife. I have no excuses. Regardless of the problems within my marriage, this was unacceptable to God.  Brad, my pastor, told me how he explains this to other pastors with whom he speaks about me.

He said, "Arthur committed a vile sin. He sinned knowingly and often. He and Angelica could not reconcile with one another. He did not decide to live a life of celibacy. Instead, he kept piling on sin upon sin in the face of God. He was wrong to do so. They married and found a church home. Arthur repented, began to humble himself and continues to do so."

Friends, I'm no saint, that's for sure.  I am a sinner to the core. I am a wretch who willingly broke God's law, and as Brad says, I attempted to push God off His throne and make my own law on my own terms.

How do I begin to reconcile what my life looks like right now? How can I even begin to enjoy my happiness with Cynthia knowing that I am a vile law-breaker?

There is a simple answer. God has given me more grace than I deserve.

Let me quickly state what Paul told us. That does not give us the right to sin more so that grace may abound more. I get ill when people come to me (and it happens) and ask me if they should leave their spouse and commit adultery. My answer? NO! They say, "Well you did it." My answer? "That doesn't make it right."

In spite of my sin, God gave me and Cynthia grace. Abounding, free and unfettered grace. Grace I didn't deserve. When I sinned, I deserved the Ananias and Sapphira treatment. I deserved to be struck dead on the spot the second I began to think about adultery. But God didn't do that. He was long-suffering and patient with me.

Did I suffer consequence? Yes. Did others suffer pain because of my sin? Unfortunately, yes. And I will think of that every day for the rest of my life.

But still, the question is not answered. How do I reconcile the two? My happiness with Cynthia and my breaking of God's law and Christ's suffering to be with her? The sovereigntist in me has been longing to reconcile these two!

Again, I was struck because of God's Word.

I am a forgiven child of God. There is no reason for me to attempt to reconcile the two. God has already reconciled these two things for me. And all praise to Him for that.

He basically looked at me when He forgave me and said, "Arthur, I have forgiven and forgotten." And each day when I remember it, agonize over it, and replay it in my mind and feel guilt, He reminds me, "You're the only one bringing it up, I've forgotten it. It's been covered by my Son."

What a wonderful thing grace is. Undeserved. But so freely received by me.

Others may cast stones or try to label me, but Christ never will. God will not hold my adultery against me ever again. Even if I try to bring it up or drag myself down because of it, He never will. Know why? Because I am His child.

Friends, this grace is ours to have. It is ours to receive and worship Christ for. It is not there for us to engorge ourselves with sin so that we may have it. But it is there so that we may be cleansed from unrighteousness and live a holy life pleasing to God.

No one in this world, including myself, has a right to condemn me. I have been justified - not because of anything I have done - but because of what Christ did.

How do I theologically reconcile my current happiness with my sin against God? I don't have to. I throw my theological musings out the dang door. My ivory tower theology has no room here. Only the love of Christ operates here.

There is no need to reconcile it theologically. Christ has reconciled the situation with His sacrifice - once and for all. That is my hope. That is my rock. That is my everything. 

I do not boast in my strength to get to this point. I do not boast in my cleverness, my education, my perseverance or my swagger. I boast in the grace of Christ which has completely covered my transgression and has said to me, "Your sin has been removed, now move on and live a life pleasing to me from this point forward."

What now? I know exactly what the adulterous woman felt like in John 8:10-11. A woman who had been caught red handed in the act of adultery. A woman, who by Old Testament standards, deserved to be stoned. A woman who was shamed and didn't have a friend in the world - except Jesus.  

He said to her something that I now understand when the people all dropped their stones and walked away.

Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

She said, "No one, Lord."

Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more." (ESV)

Christ's love and grace are overwhelming. Without them, I would still be trying to reconcile God's wrath and breaking His law with my current happiness. Instead, I now understand His love toward me.

He didn't give His son so I could commit adultery. He did give His son so that I could be set free from sin.

And now that He has forgotten and forgiven, now that He has humbled me, I can be free to be happy with Cynthia.

More importantly, I am happy to have a God who doesn't give up on me and loves me for who I am.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Illness, Pastoral Comfort, And The Need For Rest

I’m not really sure where to start with what’s been going on for the past three weeks.

To sum up, without giving up too much information, Cynthia had a serious medical event. When I say serious, I mean serious. She’s resting well and we’re going to see a specialist on Friday. Thanks to those of you who have been praying for her.

It came out of the blue and has caused a lot of concern and stress.

It’s also caused a lot of reflection for both of us. To write about it will help me, but on the other hand, to reflect on it makes me wonder if too much theological, spiritual, or other type of reflection is really helpful.

I started blogging because it helped me release some of my deep issues. It did that and I was able to find solace in Christ. But with this latest problem we face, I just wonder if pontification on the issues of life on a blog isn’t just technological navel gazing.

Cynical? Maybe. But all my wondering and consideration won’t make Cynthia better.

Three weeks ago when she fell ill, I was scared. Scared she might not recover. Frightened that I might be alone in this world without her.

What would I have told myself if I had been my pastor? “All things work together for good . . .” Stop right there. Sure they do. But at that moment, looking into my beautiful wife’s eyes, I suddenly had no future. I was left asking, “What if I’m about to lose her?”

After we got a firm diagnosis of what had happened to her, Cynthia asked me, “Is this punishment for what we did?”

No, of course not. But we also discussed the fact that there are some who still judge us who will believe it is.

God has forgiven and wiped our slate clean. Our God has moved from judge to loving Father. If He wanted to judge me for everything I had ever done, I’d never make it out of bed in the morning. If He were to judge me for being an adulterous pastor, I’d have been struck dead a year ago in a gruesome, horrible accident, with an awful incurable disease, or some other unspeakable nightmare.

I don’t deserve His grace. But He has given it. And any who think I deserve judgment from Him are right. I do. We all do. But thanks be to Christ, any of us may receive grace.

So how do I deal with this event? How do I deal with this illness that has struck Cynthia?

Some would tell me that it is a terrible thing, but it will go to glorify God. To use it in the same way Paul used the thorn in his flesh – “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Some might tell us that without enough faith, it will never go away. To pray until it is healed.

Others might tell us, despite my belief, that it is God’s judgment upon our sin. That it is what we deserve. That we haven’t fully repented and that there is more to come.

Others will say it’s just fate. Bad things happen. Sickness is inevitable, that’s how life is and there are worse things in the world. You know, “it could be worse.”

In the back of my mind, I hear myself when I was a pastor. I hear all of the meaningless things I would have been telling people if it had been them or their spouse if they had been sick, “I’ll be praying for you.” “God is in control.” “We’re here for you.” “God is a God of miracles.” “We’ll put you on the prayer list.”

Those things are all true – so they are not entirely meaningless. But if they are not spoken in love or with conviction, they are meaningless. But they are meaningless sometimes because they are not the best thing to say.

When people are at their worst, as we are now, it is hard to find something to say. That’s why I now know that I only find comfort in the words of one man. The one I should have been quoting when I was attempting to comfort when pastoring.

The words I now find solace in.

“Come to me all you who are weary or heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”