Self-destructive behavior from those who should know better

“…they exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” (Romans 1:25).

“What were you thinking?”

A pastor with a fine church, great respect, challenging opportunities, and a good income does the strangest thing. He arrives home from the monthly meeting of a denominational board and turns in his expenses (air fare, hotel, taxi, and meals) to the church bookkeeper. She writes him a check to repay him.

Eventually, it comes out that the denominational agency was also reimbursing him. He has been charging both the church and the agency for his expenses.

For a few thousand dollars a year, he was willing to risk everything.

What was he thinking?

A pastor with a great church and incredible potential discovers he can pull down an additional $20,000 a year by taking several groups to the Holy Land.  All his congregation sees is that their pastor keeps pushing these trips as a way to deepen their commitment and broaden their vision. They are completely unaware that the travel company is giving him a hefty commission.  When the membership finds it out, most are unhappy.  Nothing illegal was going on; this is accepted business practice. The problem is the pastor’s moonlighting and using his position of influence to pad his income on the side.

(Note: Many evangelists and retired pastors earn an excellent income doing this. As one who has benefited from such, we encourage people to make this unforgettable Holy Land trip.)

Because Pastor Adamant had been at his church a long time during which they had excellent growth, he seemed entrenched and was able to call his own shots. The problem is he loved not being accountable to anyone, but simply informing the financial leaders “what we will be doing.”  With no one to tell him “no,” he had the bookkeeper using church funds to pay some personal things for him (which shall be unnamed here, to protect his anonymity). When the news got out, the congregation rose up and informed him in a heartbeat that he really was accountable–to them!  After the newspapers had a feast as the church’s expense, the pastor found himself looking for work.

What was he thinking?

He wasn’t.

Television shows will feature videos of people doing outrageous things.  Two men will decide to ride something–a sled, a bike, a boat, a chest of drawers!–off a ramp for the sheer fun of it, knowing full well that a horrendous crash awaits at the end.  A man will take a chainsaw to the rooftop to cut something, but without proper clothing and eye protection, and will end up lopping off the very thing he’s standing on.  The list of such foolishness seems endless.

What were they thinking?

“It seemed like the thing to do.” “I thought it was a good idea at the time.”

A famous movie star with ten thousand things to live for–beautiful family, fabulous career, etc.–is found with a murderous blend of drugs in his system.  What was he thinking?

A well-known judge sitting on the bench he had dreamed of throughout his career and enjoying the kind of prestige lawyers crave, takes a few measly thousands of dollars under the table to go easy on a defendant.  He loses everything and goes to prison.  How lightly he valued all he had achieved, how cheaply he sold his career, and how easily he brought humiliation to those who believed in him, invested in him, loved him.

As heartbreaking as this is, we have come to expect such scandalous behavior from those outside the faith.  What hurts is when a fellow believer steps across the line and commits the most foolhardy act of his life, a lapse in common sense which reverberates into every corner of his universe.

Ministers keep going to jail for embezzling church money.

Respected fathers will be discovered to have child porn on their computers, a serious crime, or to be molesting their own daughters.

This week we learned about a preacher who convinced his church leadership to spend a small fortune buying copies of his new book which would place it on the bestsellers list.  The thinking is that since many people buy books from such lists assuming them to be worth reading, if you can get your book on the list, bingo, you have a best-seller.

Such tactics are not illegal, just unethical.  It’s what people do who are addicted to fame, accountable to no one, and willing to use the Lord’s money to promote themselves.

All of these are mind-blowingly stupid, if you will pardon the outrage.

Here’s a pastor doing the best work of his life. His church has finally become healthy, he is preaching the best sermons ever, his staff is unified and effective, and his family life is going well. While guest-ministering in a distant city, he flirts with a woman in the congregation, she responds, and they end up making arrangements to meet. The flirtation leads to a full-blown affair. For that foolishness, the minister loses his family, the church, the respect he had enjoyed, and the opportunity to make a difference in thousands of lives for eternity’s sake.  How cheaply he swapped the treasure.

We think of what the Prophet Nathan said to King David after just such a destructive episode: “Why have you despised the Lord?” (II Samuel 12:9)  “By this deed, you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (12:14).

God takes personally what His called servants do to bring dishonor to His name and His people.

And this text….

Esau came in from the field and was famished. He said to Jacob his brother, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” But Jacob said, “First, sell me your birthright.” And Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die. Of what use then would the birthright be to me?” So he sold his birthright to Jacob. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (from Genesis 25)

Esau has been given a place in popular culture as one who makes a truly foolish deal for the pleasure of a moment. “Selling his birthright for a mess of potage” is the usual expression.

What are you thinking today?

God give us all “the mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5).

 

1 thought on “Self-destructive behavior from those who should know better

  1. Why do men after a while think they can get by with that which in rational moments they know to be wrong ethically as well as in many cases morally also? In recent weeks I have read of men who once headed in one case the largest Baptist (non-SBC) church in N. America and a leader of a para-church ministry which touched thousand upon thousand of lives for the Kingdom of God, to have had behaviors which in all practical purposes destroyed fruitful ministries. Reminds me of an old seminary’s profs. words to our class in Pastoral Ministry years ago, “Boys don’t let fifteen minutes destroy what you have spent your life on”. The sooner we all realize as clergy we all have “clay feet” and beg the Lord’s protection and put measures into practice to prevent later ministry crashes, will we see foolish choices cease. I believe Billy Graham was blessed by God all his career was due in part to a pact he, George B. Shay, and Cliff Barrows had along with accountability while on the road away from families. I had a policeman in one church tell me he saw policeman break the law they were entrusted to uphold because at one point in their career they begin to think they were above the law everyone else had to live under. Perhaps some of this reality is true of clergy as well. They get to the place where they think they can take a few liberties, which they know to be wrong , because after all they are God’s “front men” and whatever form of rationalism it takes from there. Thanks for reminding us that no one regardless of standing, accomplishments, or even lack of, is exempt from being led down a prim-rose path to destruction by the great Deceiver.

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