What Will We Learn? (Sexual Sin)

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Many of us have been following the recent sad story of Ted Haggard.  Haggard, who has been serving as the President of the National Association for Evangelicals as well as pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, has admitted to sexual sin.  A statement regarding his dismissal from the church was released by the New Life Church.  Yesterday, a statement written by him was read to the congregation.  You may wish to read the statement for yourself.  A statement by his wife, Gayle, was also read.  You can read some of the most recent developments in the Denver Post.

 

Again, this is quite a sad story.  Like many of you, I have watched as all of this has unfolded.  For me, this becomes a reminder to remember words from Scripture.

"So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall" (I Corinthians 10:12). 

How do I think about this sad news so that my relationship with Jesus is strengthened?

 

1.  I don’t want to be overly confident about my own walk with Jesus.  I don’t want get to a point where I am no longer "watching out."  Such an attitude on my part would be terribly naive.  Yet, there are men and women who seem to think they are "above" temptation.  That is dangerous.

 

2.  This reminds me to be faithful in the "little things."  Most people I have talked with through the years don’t wake up one morning and decide to commit some act of sexual immorality.  Most people I know began making some very unwise (at best) or even downright foolish decisions.  An inappropriate e-mail.  A conversation that was out of bounds.  Playing with pornography, etc.  I want to live in such a way that there is nothing hidden.  That begins with the "little things" like e-mail, cell phone conversations, etc.  So many people I’ve known compromised in these "little things" long before the train wreck.  

 

3.  Eighteen years ago, Leadership Journal published a list of consequences compiled by Randy Alcorn.  This list was entitled "Consequences of a Moral Tumble."  I recall reading these and then adding to this list.  Periodically I have reflected on this list.  "If I commit sexual sin, here are some of the consequences…"  I have thought about the impact that might have on my wife, my two daughters, and now my son-in-law.  I have thought of the impact on my friends.  I have thought about the impact on the church.  Occasionally thinking about such consequences reminds me that my decisions and my life impact people I care about.  

 

4.  This story is a reminder of my own need for godly relationships with a few other godly men.  I am thinking about a few friendships in which we talk about our relationship with God — with honesty.  Far too many of us live in isolation.  (Far too many ministers live isolated lives.  We may live without any real sense of accountability.)  

 

5.  I am thinking right now about the importance of humility in my life.  I have been married for 28 years and have never been unfaithful to my wife.  HOWEVER, it is very important that I not be prideful about that.  I don’t dare say that as a boast.  That is by the grace of God, and future fidelity will be by the grace of God.  So, I want to live with humility before God.

 

6.  Finally, I need to stay very near to Jesus.  Every day, I need to think about the treasure I have in him.  When I get lax about this treasure, it is very easy for my heart to drift.  I can begin to place a greater value on other things.  So, I want to guard my time in prayer, Scripture, and other disciplines that move me toward him.

 

I realize there is much to be said about this story on a number of levels. However, in this post, I primarily wanted to reflect on my own life.  What do you think?  Is there any reminder here for your own walk with God?
 
May God have mercy on us all.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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17 thoughts on “What Will We Learn? (Sexual Sin)

  1. Jim,
    I also think of what Paul said at the end of 1 Co. 9–he disciplined his body so that after preaching to others he wouldn’t somehow miss out.  It’s easy for those of us in this vocation to forget the need for radical self-discipline in order to find the grace we need to overcome Satan’s assaults (O, how he loves to see us tumble!).  Satan can get us by the throat if we give him just a little room to work.  As someone once noted–sin always takes us further than we intended to go, keep us longer than we intended to stay, and cost us more than we thought we’d spend. 
    May we seek the grace to endure this often treacherous journey.  No doubt Haggard needs our prayers.
    Ben

  2. Jim, this is not only a very wise response that you have posted, but it is also graceful. We exist to reclaim the discarded and broken people of this world. The church has to be careful to (a) not APPROVE of this kind of sin and also to (b) not CRUCIFY the sinner. This will be tough but I hope that the church there will attempt to restore the man back to the joy of his salvation … maybe some kind of therapeutic treatment or strong accountability or something. Anyway … I have said to my preacher friends, "not a one of us is above this kind of sin." If we think we are, look out. Isn’t it scary, though, that a man would risk his marriage, break the heart of his children, lose his job, sacrifice his influence, and not to mention possibly lose his soul for a few moments of sensual pleasure? How captive to our passions are we, after all? There’s a lot to talk about here.

  3. Jim:Haggard’s sin is a sad but all-too familiar story for those of us old enough to remember Bakker and Swaggart, or to have read Elmer Gantry.  You noted the importance of being "faithful in the ‘little things.’"  In the language of sexual addictions, this is known as SUDs: Seemingly Unimportant Decisions.  You are quite right: if sin were to present itself blatantly, most of us would reject it immediately; boil us like a frog, however, and we wind up immersed in hot water and realize it too late.I do not doubt Haggard’s repentance but am concerned about whether or not he realizes the depth of the problem.  In his statement (read to New Life Church; available as a .pdf file – his wife’s statement is also available) he spoke of his regret and remorse, but also (in what appears at first to be merely peculiar):

    "I have an overwhelming, all-consuming sadness in my heart for the pain that you and I and my family have experienced over the past few days."

    "and I"?  This is the leakage of a narcissistic personality, something quite often found to be foundational to addictions, including sexual ones. He says, too, that

    "Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me."

    We all need to think through what we believe "recovery" from any addiction actually is.  It is not merely the arrest of sinful behavior, as important as that is as a starting point; recovery is the transformation accomplished through the renewing of our mind and the development of Christ-like character in us.  Addictions are symptomatic of deep characterologic flaws.  They must be managed first but then treated deeply.Sadly, Haggard also says,

    "The public person I was wasn’t a lie; it was just incomplete."

    This should alert and frighten us.  His life was, without question, a lie; the statement above is no less a lie.  He was a consumate hypocrite and hypocrites are behavioral (rather than verbal) liars.  That does not seem to have changed as of yet.To his credit, he has repented as best he knows how.  We need to pray for him, of course, but we also need to pray for our own pastors.  Driscoll’s comments on this matter have some merit regardless of what one might think of him.  We need to listen to the message and ignore the messenger: Mark has some very good advice for any Christian, engaged in vocational ministry or not.  

  4. Ben,Thanks for a very good post!  Thanks for the reminder that Satan desires to "get us by the throat."  You said it well. 

  5. John,I like the way you say this.  We do exist to reclaim broken people.   At the same time, these kinds of incidents will hopefully remind us all of the desire of Satan and our own vulnerability.  Sometimes, I get the impression that some of us think we are almost invincible.Thanks John

  6. Mike,A really good post!  Your comments remind me how complicated all of this can be.  After all, this is the culmination of years of addiction not an overnight lapse.I really like what you say about dealing with addictions.  The importance of approaching this as more than arresting the behavior is so important.  Thanks for the clarity and insight you offer to all of us regarding this.A very wise minister told me years ago that the best thing that I or any other minister/pastor could do for the church is to deal with my own "stuff."Years later, I continue to see the wisdom of his advice.  

  7. Excellent post, Jim. There was a point (I’m embarrassed to say) in my life and ministry that I would have reacted with self-righteous arrogance. Now I am saddened for him and, especially, his church and family.I caught just a part of Dennis Prager’s comments this morning, but he says we need to learn the true meaning of the word, "hypcrite." Though he in no way was supporting Haggard, he and Dr. Mike would have an interesting conversation and I’d probably side with Prager regarding exactly what is a hypocrite.  

  8. Public life must be terrifying at these moments… don’t we all have things we’d never want anyone to know… but we hide in quieter lives? I feel intensely sorry for him.

  9. Jim,  thanks for the reminder.  Do you have some thoughts on how a minister can foster this kind of relationship with a few men?  Do you have this kind of friendship with men in your congregation?

  10. Good post. I think this is a reminder to all of us that our leaders are human, that we are human, and that temptation and sin will be lifelong battles. Fallen leaders need support.

    It’s so hard, though, for those of us that are in professional ministry, to separate our profession and our spiritual life. That is, we sometimes resist admitting sin because of the impact it will have on our professional life.

  11. L.L.The whole thing is just very sad.  Did you happen to see the moment when he was backing out of his driveway? I’ve thought about this several times since I first saw it on the news. Haggard stopped his car for a moment while a reporter asked him a question.  His wife was in the front seat and two children in the back seat.  It was a very, very sad picture. 

  12. Dusty,This has been a challenge for me.  But–I have had such relationships at times.   I have led a number of men’s groups through the years.  Sometimes that level of relationship has existed–sometime it hasn’t.I see the value for such relationships both in the congregation where I am and outside my congregation.  I find that I need both.I can think of a few guys in our church right now who I have this kind of comfort with.  Like a lot of ministers, I’ve been burned before by people who I’ve trusted–yet, the answer is not to pull back completely.  I have found that I foster such relationships when I take the inititive to speak from my heart about something.  If that guy seems to always be holding back then I assume he doesn’t want a relationship on that level.  As a minister, I’ve been blessed by special relationships with several other ministers outside our church.  These guys have no vested interest in our church and at times it has been easier to talk freely.I meet with an older Christian attorney periodically.  We talk.  We pray.  I ask him questions about life, marriage, struggles, etc.  I tend to be very candid with him.  That was fostered after sharing a number of lunches together and talking about our lives. Some of this, Dusty, has been trial and error.  I don’t how much of this is helpful.Thanks for coming by.

  13. Tim,So glad you came by.What you said is so true.  It can be very difficult to separate our lives as ministers from our walk with the Lord.  And–in one sense, I don’t think we can or even should.  Afterall, ministry flows out of our hearts.  A heart which is being reshaped after God’s own heart.On the other hand—it is so easy to mistake all our our doing and all of our activity for authentic life in the Lord. And–that is really dangerous.  I can find myself thinking that I am really ok before God because I am giving so much of my life to him.You bring up such a critical point too–one can resist confessing sin because of its connection with one’s ministry, etc.  And then the mess can just get deeper and deeper. Ultimately, I believe that what would help many, many of us who are ministers is to have relationships where we practice regular confession so that this discipline is happening long before a destructive lifestyle begins.