The popular comic strip “L’il Abner” used to feature a character who lived under a constant, tiny storm cloud. It followed him around wherever he went, maybe 12 inches above his head, always pouring rain down upon him. (The character’s name was an unpronounceable “Btfsplk.” When asked, cartoonist Al Capp said “It’s a rude sound.” Maybe what’s called a raspberry or Bronx cheer. Google Btfsplk and see the cartoon.)
I’ve felt like Joe Btfsplk all this week.
Analyzing that me-sized stormcloud–“why am I feeling so sad?”–I can identify several forces that are raining on my parade, if you will.
A minister friend was found dead at home in the middle of the week. He was 56, widely respected, with a lovely adoring family. I have grieved about that and for them all week. (The memorial service Friday was such an uplifting experience, and helped to blow away the storm-cloud.)
I’m very tired. The first four days of the week, I was in revival. In addition to the church services and my sketching of perhaps 200 people, our activities included a program at a high school, a visit to a youth detention center, and visits with friends going through their own difficult times. I spoke any number of times and must have sketched another 150 people. Following the Wednesday night service, I drove home, arriving at midnight, then was up early the next morning. Thursday began with pre-sunrise walking, followed by a dozen errands throughout the day. Saturday I leave for another revival.
The Ashley Madison business has burdened me. Until last week, I hardly knew what that was. I had made it a daily practice to delete the junk arriving in my mailbox, some of them offering among other things, to help me commit adultery. Thoughts that anyone might actually fall for such a scheme–“Life is short. Have an affair.”–never occurred to me. It turns out that millions did. Apparently, that come-on resonated with a lot of good people who are now having their foolish act displayed before the world. And even though I ignored that business and my name is nowhere on the list, I grieve for those on it.
Who among us has not done something bone-headed? For most, our stupid act goes unnoticed and we repent and pick up and go on.
My heart breaks for the untold thousands of good people who yielded to that foolish seduction in the weakness of a moment and are having their sin displayed before the world.
Marriages are ending, we hear. Careers are in jeopardy. Suicides even.
Everything about it is sad.
Thank God for the cross. Thank God for a Savior who knows we are sinners, who is under no misconception that we are either perfect or have become perfect, and who “receiveth sinful men.” Thank God for Jesus.
Now, let us pray for Godly and mature church leaders to lead their congregations to do the mature thing and show grace and forgiveness to leaders whose names are found in the Ashley Madison morgue. Condemning them would be so easy. Turning them out would be so simple. But doing so would be to deny our responsibility to those who need us.
Church members, may I say a word to you?
1) You have no perfect leaders. Not now, not yesterday, not ever.
2) You belong to no perfect church. No member and no leader of your church is sinless. All are in need of daily grace and mercy.
3) If you discover that a leader of your church–a teacher or staffer or even the pastor–had enrolled in the Ashley Madison cesspool, pray for them and help them deal with it. They need to confess and humble themselves, and go through some kind of counseling with a professional. But they can emerge from this far better and stronger than ever before. But only if you the members stay faithful.
4) Your pastors did not disown you when it was discovered you had sinned. Now, stand by them please, if it’s discovered one (or more) of them has sinned in this way.
Let me tell you of two churches I once knew. In the very same month, both pastors were abandoned by their wives, who left with other men. The churches dealt with it in opposite ways. The pastor who had been preaching “law” to his people received law from his people when his wife divorced him. They cut him loose. The pastor who had preached “grace” to his people received grace from them when his wife divorced him. They kept him, loved him, and ministered to him. Today, the latter church is strong and stable. (I’m uncertain about the other church.)
Choose carefully, church leader, how you believe Christ wants your congregation to treat a stumbling minister or teacher. How you do so will a) say worlds about how you interpret the gospel and b) the kind of church you want yours to become for the future.
Someone will trot out scripture verses about holiness and righteousness, and use them to bludgeon leaders whose humanity is on full display here. Please do not do that. Always remember that even the scripture cautions: “The letter of the law killeth; the Spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Pray for your pastors and leaders, friend. Pray earnestly and daily for the Father to keep them close to Him and protect them from temptation.