Monday, March 5, 2007

Yeah, but are you sorry?

I used to get together once a week with a group of men from my church for a time of reflection and prayer. Our purpose was to have an open forum to be able to share our struggles, confess our sins, encourage each other and just shoot the breeze. I apprecitated the open, honest time that I was able to share with these brothers in Christ. At the time, I was a minister and it was nigh unto impossible to be able to have a forum to take off the "minister" mask and unload. Too often, congregations put their preachers and ministers under a standard to which they don't hold anyone else, including themselves. A minister may have struggles with his faith, but he'd better not show it to the congregation. We expect our preachers and ministers to be better than we are. We might struggle with various sins or temptations, but they aren't allowed to. In fact, on those occasions when a minister has been caught in a sin or succumbed to a temptation, anything from financial mismanagement to sexual sin, the church's reaction is quite un-Christlike. I'm not opposed to removing a minister from a position of authority when his judgement is called into question. However, most of the time, the church's reaction to a minister's (public) sin is not one of gracious concern and desire for forgiveness. There is no forgiveness and continuing relationship with those men who have betrayed our trust and faith. There is only sending them away, in shame, to be somebody else's problem. Anyhow, I'm just trying to help you understand the tremendous pressure that most ministers labor under.

So, anyhow, my Friday morning prayer time with this group was precious to me. One day, I was moved to share a thought with them. I want to share it now with you, because it was a watershed moment for me and I suspect that many people would benefit from hearing, understanding, and applying this train of thought to themselves.

First, more self-disclosure... You probably wouldn't think of it to look at me now, but I got around a bit when I was in high school. Come to think of it, when I was in high school, most people probably didn't think of me as being as worldly as I was. I was sneaky. I didn't get caught being naughty, so everyone assumed that I was pretty good. When the time came for me to choose where I was going to go for college, I decided to move away from Lubbock and start again where no one knew me in Abilene. My reason was mostly, that I was pretty ashamed of the behavior and reputation that I was getting in Lubbock (at least, my perception) and I thought that I could just move on and start over at a new place. So that is just what I did. I moved, got involved with school, a new church, decided on a Bible major at ACU and then got married, graduated and started a career. So, here I was, years later, as a minister. I remember just days before, working with my teens in the youth group and trying to help them see the dangers of loose living. I never told them just how bad I'd been, but I told them enough to let them knew that I knew that if they were typical teens, they probably thought that they were being sneaky and no body knew that they: listened to inappropriate, ungodly music; drank alcohol; partied inappropriately; smoked; engaged in sexual behavior; experimented with just how far they could "sin" without it being "too far". I was able to relate to them and hopefully gave them something to think about... they weren't really getting away with anything. God knows it all. That is one of his little tricks, you know.... the whole omniscient, omnipresent thing he does.

So anyhow, I went to bed that night, feeling pretty good that I'd been able to come through those "sinful" experiences and still be of use to God. I mean, hadn't he brought me to this place and given me a ministry and people to minister to? I turned out alright (again, in my perspective), despite all my sinful dabblings. Suddenly, I felt that I had been moved by the Spirit to examine myself. I realized that I had held on to those memories of the sin I'd indulged in. I thought about them from time to time, fondly. I didn't long for them, don't get me wrong... it was just that I'd never really repented of them. It was as if I thought somewhere, deep down, that it was ME that overcame them. *I* decided to give them up and start a new life in Abilene. It was my will and effort that let me turn down offers and decide to make a change in my life.... but I never once felt sorry for my sin. I never once stopped to think about how my sin affected me. I never once stopped to consider how my sin continued to affect my relationship with Christ. It occurred to me that in addition to shame, I should have felt remorse. But I didn't, not really. I wasn't sorry for the consequences for the other's I'd sinned with. I never acknowledged God's role in helping me break free. So, in a way, I hadn't made such a clean break after all. I'd not been broken by my sin, because I still carried it with me. I had yet to give it to Christ. When I re-lived those sins in my mind, I committed them again and again. The Spirit's conviction to me that night was made manifest in deep sorrow and remorse. Finally, years after I thought I'd given those things up, I finally laid them at the cross and actually *asked* to be forgiven. I finally repented of them and recognized the hurt I'd inflicted on the person of God. It was as if I'd been proud of my ability to overcome and denied the work of the cross all those years.

So, one Friday morning, I shared that realization with my dear friends and they wept with me. I don't deny the power of Christ's blood to forgive those sins, even if I'd never come to that realization. However, I do believe that those sins hindered my ability to truly reflect Christ in my person. That day, it became less about me and more about Him. The next time I had an opportunity to disclose my experience, I would be able to speak about the power of Christ in my life, and not the power of Jeff.

I hope I was able to get my point across by sharing this with you. You may have stopped committing a particular sin, but unless you've really recognized the power it had over you and experienced godly sorrow, I'm willing to say that you haven't really been transformed. It still has power over you in the form of misplaced pride in your own ability to overcome.

Here's hoping for grace to swoop in and free you. Cheers.

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