It has been about 40 days dince my last post, and for those who check this blog weekly, you have be wondering if my fingers had bee removed in some industrial accident (or by a member of the mob). You may wonder if I've run out of thoughts...or you may have hoped that I had run out of thoughts. Neither is the case. I have simply been negligent in updating lately. Excuses abound...I had surgery about four days after the last post, and even this morning, I still felt the effects. My family and I are moving, which is a post within itself...so, I'll leave it at that. This has meant packing and preparing for a new phase of life. There are plenty of things I can point to...but I am now writing again.
I am writing today out of a need to be transparent. I have attended the BASICS conference at Parkside Church in Cleveland, OH, on two occasions, and I recommend it to anyone who is passionate about preaching or wants to grow spiritually and pastorally. One of the most refreshing things, for me, is to see a man like Alistair Begg...or any of the other amazing men who have spoken...become transparent. You hear these men on the radio, read their books, and it is easy to get a quick sense that they live in a different world than we do. There's some shiny, sinless world they live in...while we dwell down here in the muddy, dingy, sinful realm of earth.
In addition to this, it is easy, as a pastor, to believe that you will somehow weaken your ministry or your influence if you are honest about your own struggles with sin. What a lie! The opposite is actually true. I was listening again to "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" by Jim Cymbala on tape...and it was amazing that his first spiritual breakthrough at the Brooklyn Tabernacle came as a result of his giving up on a Sunday night sermon. He makes this statment about what he learned that night, "God is actually attracted to weakness."
We don't believe that, do we? I mean, we read about Gideon and celebrate the grace and power of God in the midst of his weakness. We see God ambushing the enemies of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20, and we have long discussions over the battle being the Lord's and not ours. We read Paul's testimony that God's grace is sufficient and that God's power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12), but we really don't believe that, do we? That's just good discussion...it makes for an interesting Bible study...but that's no way to live your life...always boasting in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9b).
We live in a world where you have to be strong...you must seem impenetrable by the power of sin, or else you could lose status. Whether you are actually growing in holiness or not is often irrelevant...you must seem like you are. This is especially true is you're going to be called a leader in today's church. You can't have chinks in your spiritual armor. You can't slip on the narrow path that leads to life. You must stand tall, chest out, voice firm, with confidence radiating from every pore. You must, in some ways, be like the Grinch who stole Christmas. You must have an outward appearance that is meant to almost intimidate those around you, while your heart is aching or struggling or broken. They don't teach you this in seminary...this is stuff you learn "on the job."
In this arena, there are two things I know to be true...one, pastors must pursue holiness and, in many ways, be the example of what it means to pursue holiness. Second, and the flip side of this same coin, is that honesty about failing is part of what sets the example for others to pursue holiness. I will create nothing but an attitude of defeat if I stand boldly in every arena and fake my holiness. Likewise, pastors shoot their hurting, struggling, sinning congregation in the foot (and sometimes in the heart) when the facade of perfection in life is kept up for the sake of the "fishbowl."
It is with this in mind that I must confess...there is much in the way of killing sin that has yet to happen in my life. I find myself struggling with things that have plagued me for years. It's not every day, which is the sneaky part of how the enemy works. However, too often, I let my guard down, and the enemy takes that opportunity to introduce things that haven't crossed my radar in months or years. Because my guard is down, I knowingly walk into sinful thoughts, sinful words, or sinful actions...usually things I have just denounced from the pulpit or am prepared to denounce the coming Sunday. It is in these moments when nothing seems lower than I am...murderers, thieves, liars, and adulterers seem to have nothing on me.
It is usually at this time that I don't immediately turn to the right place. Instead of running first to the throne of grace to seek mercy and grace in my time of need, I instead start my party planning. I get my proverbial pointed hat on and am ready to throw the great pity party of the ages. The main event? I will recall my sin over and over and over again, and the enemy of my soul will clap with each repetition. I will announce my failure with my failure voice fully revved up, and Satan batters me like I'm the pinata.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit interrupts the party and turns on a light. This is not godly sorrow...it's not godly sorrow because it doesn't lead to repentance. It is only leading to my spiritual demoralization. Godly sorrow looks to the One who has borne my burden on the cross. Godly sorrow recently took me to John 1:5, where I was reminded that "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." No darkness can overcome the light that has shone in my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. No darkness can extinguish the Light of the world who is my Light. It is this Light that has brought grace upon grace (John 1:16) and that is full of grace and truth (1:14). This grace is mine because He has brought me out of the kingdom of darkness and into His marvelous kingdom, where I enjoy the forgiveness of my sin (Col. 1:13-14).
So, what do I do? The party's over. I take off my pointed hat, and I prepare to walk with my Savior again. As best I can, I will leave behind the memory of my failure and press on to the high calling of Christ (Phil. 3:13-14). If the memory of failure comes back, I cast my anxiety over it on the Lord because He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).
Yes...I fail. Yes...I sin. Yes...I admit it. Yes...I am a pastor. I beg you...don't throw a pity party for yourself when you sin, even if it's habitual and seems impossible to break. Join me in running to the throne room of grace and casting yourself on His mercy. His forgiveness is ours when we confess and repent.