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Fallen Pastor: The Book, Part 6, Engaging The Culture

Two years ago, after I fell from ministry, I began to call other fallen ministers. I did so to try to make some sense of the situation I was in. I knew I had sinned, but I wanted to see where all of this was leading. I wanted to know if reconciliation with my former church was even a possibility. I wondered...

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Can We Just Forgive Someone “In Our Heart?”

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in forgiveness, reconciliation | Posted on 25-07-2014

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forgivemeI want to write about a statement that really, really bothers me. “I’ve forgiven ‘so and so’ in my heart.”

I have heard this sentiment over and over for many years. I understand what it means. Usually, it means, “I say I forgive them, but I never really want to tell them I forgive them.

Is this true, biblical forgiveness? Does Jesus ever tell us that we can “forgive someone in our heart” then never tell them that we’ve forgiven them?

No.

Now, I’ll grant that there are times that we need to give forgiveness and that full reconciliation is not going to happen. I get that. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about John Churchgoer who doesn’t want to face the person who has wronged him and say, “I forgive you.” He doesn’t want to accept the apology or repentance of the person who is offering it. He doesn’t want to look that person in the eye ever again, as is required by Scripture. He just wants an “out.”

So he says, “I forgive him in my heart.”

Real forgiveness that involves face to face reconciliation is vital because it begins the healing process. It gives both parties the chance to have peace about the situation.

Where did this horrible phrase ever come from? It needs to be stricken from our vocabulary and replaced with true forgiveness. I have a feeling that this silent forgiveness exists because of the statement Jesus made in Matthew 6:14, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.” And then, he states the negative. Maybe instead of facing people to reconcile with them and make peace, somewhere along the line, we decided it would be much easier on us if we just “forgave them in our  heart.”

But it’s just not biblical. I would encourage you that if you know someone who is repentant and has asked for forgiveness to ask why you haven’t forgiven them. Does it mean you still shouldn’t have boundaries, be careful with your trust, or have a heart to heart? No, but forgiveness is something we should never withhold.

Forgiveness needs to be real and honest. It doesn’t need to be silent. It’s either real or not. It’s either genuine and seeking toward reconciliation or it’s not.

Other helpful articles:

As We Forgive Our Debtors,” from Desiring God, John Piper

What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness?,” by Mary Fairchild

What Does Real Forgiveness Look Like?” The Reformed Reader

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Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

Men Who Smell Like Pigs: Restoring Fallen Pastors

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in fallenness, forgiveness, pastors, reconciliation | Posted on 23-07-2014

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repentaI’ve been ministering to fallen pastors for over four years now through my book and this blog. It’s been a unique joy and blessing. Recently, I’ve been taking the stance that all churches, members and leaders need to be more involved with taking care of a pastor when he falls from the ministry due to sexual immorality. Even though these men smell like pigs.

Let me explain.

Today, I’m not going to give you reasons why we should because I’ve done that before. I want to share with you one of the most rewarding things that happens when you care for and pursue a fallen, sinful pastor – you get to see and share in his restoration.

And so you’ll know what I mean by restoration – I mean to be restored to Christ. Will a fallen pastor ever be restored to ministry? Can we restore the fallen pastor? That’s a different topic. When a man has fallen from the pulpit and sinned, he needs to focus on a right relationship with Christ first. Because his relationship with Christ went wrong way before his marriage or church relationship ever started failing.

There are two types of fallen pastors. Both guys typically get kicked to the curb by their churches. But the first type has a little bit of hope to get some help by his association or his church.

The first type is the pastor who gets caught red-handed. His sin is discovered and his is approached with it by his wife or leaders of the church. His response is an almost immediate desire to do what is right and repent. He may not have a heart full of repentance right away. He may still have lingering, sinful desires – but you have to remember his adultery went on for a while. But if he shows any signs of wanting to break free, he needs your help.

The first type reminds me of Peter when Christ restored him in John 20. Jesus asked him three times if he loved him and jesusandpetePeter answered three times that he did. “Lord, you know I love you.”

The tricky thing about a newly fallen pastor is that he may think he can fix himself. Any pastor who falls needs a group of people around him to help restore him, work through his sin and toward brokenness. I write about brokenness in my book and on this blog. It is essential that any man who has fallen from the pulpit come to a point where they understand the devastation their sin caused and run back to God. Dr. Hershael York helped me understand this point while I was working on my book.

If a man refuses to be guided by a group of other Christians or be accountable, that’s a huge red flag. I’ll be honest – in my experience and after talking to others who deal with fallen pastors across the country – restoration to Christ and true brokenness takes at least a year and possibly up to 18 months. God takes His time in dealing with the hearts of His people and I’m glad He does. He does it lovingly and patiently. But there does come a moment when he breaks us.

Of all the fallen pastors I’ve talked to who have been restored, most of them remember the day God broke them. They can remember the day their sin became real. It was part of a process. Most of those moments are very personal, but God does work on our hearts.

The second type of fallen pastor is the one hardly any church, association, other pastor, family member or denominational leader wants to deal with. It’s the pastor who commits adultery, won’t listen to anyone, gets a divorce from his wife and is gone. We need to be intentional about restoring fallen pastors. Now, there is typically more story in there that no one will ever hear or want to hear, but the bottom line is this – here is a guy who sinned, got kicked out of church and home, and no one wants to deal with him.

I believe we must reach this man too. I was this man. When these men email me, they have my full, undivided attention. Know why? Because I’ve noticed in this group, there is a trending rate toward self-abuse, depression and self-hatred. When is it okay to push a sinning pastor to the side and let him go?

I can’t do it. I don’t ever condone his sin, but I will forever be his friend. Know why? Because I believe that one day, God can and will do something to radically change his heart to restore the fallen pastor. And when he does, I don’t want that pastor to say, “No one in the church believes in me. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.

sonfatherI hate stretching parables out and making more of them than we’re supposed to, but I’m going to.

Imagine the prodigal son, who has wasted his father’s wealth and now finds himself among the pigs. He stinks like a pig. He is helpless and hopeless. The Bible says that the son “came to himself.” That is what happens to many fallen pastors after a period of weeks, months or years. I’ve seen it. They snap out of it.

Anyway, the pig-smelly son decides to go back to his father’s house and attempt to at least get a job there. But we all know what happens. His father runs to meet him, not welcoming him back as a second class citizen, but as his son. See, the father didn’t embrace him and say, “Boy, where have you been for the past twelve weeks? You smell like pig!” Regardless of where the son had been, or where he had been dwelling, or how he smelled, he was still his son.

Cue the rest of the parable (that never gets preached on) and we find the older brother who is angry. He’s angry because he’s always been there for dad. But dad decided to throw a party because they found the pig-smelling son who ran off and spent money. The older son is indignant. The father says, “Son, you should rejoice because what was once lost is now found.” No, the older brother isn’t having that. He’s angry. He’s always been there. His brother ran off like a little jerk. Now he comes back smelling like a pig and he gets a party.

Point? I love all the fallen pastors who come my way, regardless of how they smell. In fact, I don’t even notice the smell. I know eventually, God is going to grab hold of them and take care of them. Restoration to Christ is really God’s job, I just get to help facilitate that. And it’s an overwhelming joy and honor

But it should be happening in the communities where these men live. And I pray someday it will.

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Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

God’s Punishment vs. Consequences of Sin

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, consequences, forgiveness, God, guilt, punishment, sin | Posted on 30-06-2014

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This is a heavy post. How do we perceive God’s punishment vs. the consequences of our sin?

Let me start it with an example from the life of a fallen pastor. This is a real question I’ve been asked, and asked myself. godpunishAs a fallen pastor, after I’ve been forgiven of my adultery, will God continue to punish me for the sin I’ve committed? Will He bring horrible calamities my way (cancer, sickness to my children) in the form of punishment as well as me facing the normal consequences of my sin (church people being angry, child support, pastors who ignore me, etc.)?

They are two different things to be considered. God’s punishment for our sin and the consequences for our sin. When I counsel fallen pastors or women who have been with fallen pastors, these are two things that come up in conversation very frequently.

Honestly, it took me a long time to come to a biblical answer on my own, so please bear with me. I will quote Scripture and the work of others in this matter because it is such an important issue.

Consequences

Let’s look at consequences first. When we sin, we own it. It is ours to bear. In Psalm 51, David acknowledged his sin before God after committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband. He asked for repentance and to be clean before God. This is so important for any Christian who has sinned. We must come to a place of repentance before God. Our sin is against God. We must answer to Him for what we have done.

Let’s liken it to a courtroom. Let’s say we have been brought before a judge for the felony of grand theft auto. We might stand before the judge and say, “Judge, I am guilty of this charge. I repent of my actions and I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.” Does that mean we will get off without a penalty?

It reminds me of the scene in “Oh, Brother Where Art Thou” when Delmar had just been baptized and thought that his baptism had cleared him of all civil wrongdoing, including a Piggly Wiggly he had robbed:

Pete: The preacher said he absolved us.

Everett: For him. Not for the law. I’m surprised at you Pete. I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.

Delmar: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.

Everett: That’s not the issue Delmar. Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi’s a little more hardnosed.

hammersThe problem is that even though a sinner is repentant, washed clean by Christ, we have to face the consequences of our actions. I know that after I committed adultery, there were many consequences to what I had done that I still face today.

Are those consequences the same as punishment? Here’s a quote from A. W. Pink, courtesy of Eric T. Young:

But while the believer’s sins cannot be punished, while the Christian cannot be condemned (Rom. 8:3), yet he may be chastised. The Christian occupies an entirely different position from the non-Christian: he is a member of the Family of God. The relationship which now exists between him and God is that of parent and child; and as a son he must be disciplined for wrongdoing. Folly is bound up in the hearts of all God’s children, and the rod is necessary to rebuke, to subdue, to humble.

When we lie, there will be consequences. When we gossip, consequences will come. When we commit any type of sin, there will be God-wrought consequences. They are a form of discipline. They may last long after we repent. We reap what we sow, friends. And when we do, the best thing we can do is to meet those consequences face to face with grace and humility, knowing that we cause the initial calamity, praying that overcoming the consequences will bring about glory to God in our sanctification.

Punishment

What about punishment? Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of fallen people say, “I’ve repented of my sin, but I can’t help but think that my newborn child died because of my adultery,” or “I repented, but my new business/ministry failed because God was judging me because of my past sin. Is He still punishing me?”

I can’t give you a clear answer to every question, but I can turn to the Scriptures and help guide you along.

The best guideline is Romans 8:1-2, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” But we must realize that for this promise is for those who repent. Christians who live in a constant state of disobedience and unrepentance are in a difficult place.

Romans 6 tells us of the life we live free from sin and also the life lived within sin: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23 ESV)

Unrepentant sin leads to punishment. Scripture is clear on that. It is punishment plus consequences. The beauty of it all is that when we confess our sin and turn from it, God casts that sin as far as the east is from the west and remembers it no eastwestmore (Psalm 103:12). We still have to deal with the earthly consequences of our sin. That is the hole we have dug for ourselves. But we are free from the punishment that sin brings to bear upon us.

What are we to do? If you’re a fallen pastor, or a sinner who is living continually in sin, repent. Cast off that sin by confessing it to God. Find someone close to you with whom you can be accountable to and with whom you can share this with. You will need support and mentoring. Do no do this alone. Do not stand under the punishment of God.

Next, after you have repented, understand that you are free. God has forgiven you. When tragedy strikes, it is not the hand of God reaching down to punish you for your previous sins. He has cast that sin away. There may be consequences for your sin for a long time – people treating you poorly, financial payments, broken relationships – but know that horrible events in your life are not acts of God reaching out to punish you for past sins.

Once you have repented and have been forgiven, you are forgiven. Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

To tie it up with a personal example, when I committed adultery as a pastor, I was not repentant. I was therefore, under the divine judgment of God. He was free to punish me – He was my Heavenly Father and I was His follower. I was way out of line and not following His commands. My own actions and behaviors were enough punishment, but He was free to punish me further.

When I repented of my sins (under the divine influence of His Spirit), He forgave me of my sin. At that moment, my sin was forgiven. Were the consequences of my adultery gone? No. I still had many people who were upset with me, many broken relationships, and a long road of restoration ahead. The consequences still surround me today because of the sin I committed. But God is with me as I travel down that road, working all things together for His glory.

You are forgiven when you turn to God and repent. Consequences may follow, but they are not the same as divine punishment. Face the consequences with grace and take each day with a step toward the holiness of God, knowing “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10.

Other helpful articles:

The Judgments: Past, Present, and Future – J. Hampton Keathley III (while I do not completely agree with his eschatology, his insights to this present topic are astounding)

Punishment vs. Consequence – Tony J. Alicea, Living in the Tension

What’s the Difference Between Punishment, Consequences, Discipline, Training, and Instruction – Brad Hambrick

Does God Punish Us When We Sin? – God Questions.org

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Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

 

Can I Forgive Myself?

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in forgiveness, grace, guilt, theology | Posted on 16-06-2014

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Should Christians forgive themselves? I’m not addressing anything new here. If you’re not aware of the disagreement, let me give you a brief synopsis. It centers around the questions, “Can I forgive myself? Is self-forgiveness possible?”

shameOn one hand, there are those who say that Christians are fooling themselves when they seek to “forgive themselves.” Self-forgiveness is not biblical. If we have sinned and repented, God has already forgiven us. We can’t forgive ourselves any further. Here’s how John MacArthur puts it:

The person who complains about not being self-forgiving is often simply looking for flattering or consoling words from others as a way of salving the hurt that guilt has caused to their pride.” (Another helpful article here on this side of the argument.)

On the other side are those who say that self-forgiveness is necessary. Christians may have the knowledge that forgiveness has been applied, but they still wallow in guilt. However, their continued self-doubt has trouble accepting it. Here’s what blogger Michelle Van Loon writes:

On the other side of the equation, I think . . . we need to receive Christ’s forgiveness first and foremost in order to be empowered to extend forgiveness to others – and ourselves.”

I believe in a form of self-forgiveness, but I am careful to define the terms. I think both arguments have tremendous merit and I think both are saying many of the same things. The first group, I believe, is trying to keep Christians from justifying sin – which is important. The second group wants to make sure that Christians understand that some people have trouble accepting God’s forgiveness.

Alright, so let me break this down with a very personal example. I fell from ministry. I committed adultery. My own personal repentance before God took a long time. It took a while before I was humbled before Him and knew that my heart was right and I had begun to walk a path of brokenness and obedience again.

The sin of adultery is a heavy one. I did it, it was my fault. The consequences are mine to bear for the rest of my life. I knew theologically and in my mind that I was forgiven. There was no doubt that I stood clean before God and that the sin of adultery had been cast as far as the east was from the west. Scripture promised it and it had been appropriated to my heart and life.

But for a long time, I struggled to accept God’s forgiveness. Why? Several reasons. First, my shame. I was still ashamed of what I had done. I carried it around with me like an albatross or a scarlet letter. Even though I knew the truth of forgiveness, I had not assented to it yet.

Secondly, maybe I doubted that God could really forgive me. Maybe it wasn’t doubt. Maybe it was wonder at His grace. Why would He forgive me? There were plenty of people who still hated what I did. I hated what I did. I still asked daily for His forgiveness even though I knew that sin had already been forgiven.

Thirdly, I think I didn’t truly understand grace. I felt like I had to do something to gain God’s favor. On one gracemercyhand, I was trying everything to get back the favor of people I had hurt. So it only seemed natural that I had to make God like me again. But that wasn’t the case. He had forgiven me. He loved me because of the sacrifice and work of Christ. But I hadn’t accepted that yet.

But one day it finally hit me. Call it whatever you like. I forgave myself. It was a moment where I said to myself, “God has forgiven me. Why am I continually bringing up this sin to Him if He’s forgiven it? I’m the only one who is holding on to it. I need to let it go.” In that moment, I forgave myself. Maybe that’s not the best word. If you want a theological term, I recognized the appropriation of God’s forgiveness and grace to my life.

Whatever happened, it was all God. My self-realization did nothing to save me. My “self-forgiveness” didn’t make more sin go away. Christ had already done the work. But thanks to the Holy Spirit, my eyes were opened to His continuing grace in my life.

So, self-forgiveness? I can live with the term if it’s used in the right way. MacArthur has the right approach. The other blogger is right too. No, we can’t excuse away our sins by ourselves. But if we don’t understand the grace that has been applied, we can be hindered from understanding the amazing love we have been shown.

Other helpful articles:

Christians Must Forgive Themselves” by Mike Ruffin

Can Christians ‘Forgive Themselves’?” by Michelle Van Loon

Forgiving Ourselves” by Charles Stanley

____________________________

Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

What Should We Think Of “The Other Woman”?

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, affair, church leadership, church members, forgiveness, other woman, pastors, reconciliation, relationships, repentance | Posted on 04-06-2014

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cheating6I recently wrote a blog giving advice to “the other woman.” You know, the woman caught in adultery. The woman the pastor has an affair with. The mistress. But what should we think of “the other woman”?

I’ve never liked any of those terms. I guess it’s because I was a pastor and married the woman I had an affair with. I could say, “We shouldn’t tag people with names according to their sin.” But I’d be a hypocrite since the name of my blog is “fallen pastor.” That, and Scripture  accordingly tags us according to the sins we are habitually committing – “murderer, liar, etc.”

When we use terms to describe people, we are speaking of their sin. When we start speaking of people, we begin to take the role of judge. When we speak of an “adulterer” to describe the person’s sin, we should always remember that there is hope for that person to repent and turn to Christ. When they do, they’re no longer an adulterer in God’s eyes, they are a forgiven person, cleansed by the righteousness of Christ.

With that said, what are we to think of “the other woman”?

Let me begin by telling you about what the relationship looks like before the pastor and the other woman get caught. He’s told her that he’s never met anyone like her. He’s told her that she listens to him and his wife doesn’t. He’s told her that he wants to leave his church and family for her. He has pledged his undying love for her. He may actually feel that way or he may just think he feels that way. Either way, they are in their own world of forbidden love.

Then, they get caught.

Next, one of two things usually happen if the pastor doesn’t leave his family for her. First, the pastor gets caught and tells the church leadership that it wasn’t a physical affair or as serious as it looks in order to save his family and ministry. He tells the church leaders everything they want to hear so he can save some face. In doing so, the leadership demand he stops seeing her.

When this happens, the leadership will tell him to sever all contact with her and often, the leaders will contact her (especially if she’s a staff or church member) and tell her to leave the church. They will tell her to never step foot in the church again. She might be asked to tell her story, but usually, she isn’t. Eventually, the story is passed around and the pastor’s version of events are told and the membership gets mad at her for “seducing” the pastor.

The second thing that happens is that the pastor falls and tells the church leadership and his wife everything. As in the first case, the leadership tells him to stop contacting her, they ask her to leave and the pastor repents and attempts to reconcile with his wife.

In just a few cases I’ve seen over the years, churches have reached out to the “other woman” to help her. But I’ve only seen that in about two otherwom4cases in 200.

Let’s be clear. Both the pastor and this woman have sinned. Both have committed adultery. Both are guilty of the sin. In just about every case I’ve seen, the pastor had a higher moral responsibility to stop the situation from going anywhere. But often, when the sin comes to the surface, it’s easier to place the blame on the “temptress.”

I think that this is a very unfair balance for several reasons.

First, there is a moral failure within every human heart that only Christ can address. When we open ourselves to the possibility of sin, stop actively seeking Christ, and cease fellowship with believers of like mind, our hearts begin to wander.

Second, when moral failure occurs within the church, all aspects need to be addressed. Attempting to restore (or ignore the sins of) a pastor while sending out another member of the faith is inconsistent with our call to restore any of those within our fellowship (Galatians 6:1). Of course, the call to restore should be consistent with the desire for repentance on the part of those who sin. But when a person is cast out without even the offer of help, counseling, or guidance, the restoration cannot even begin.

Third, when “the other woman” is cast out, despite her sin, she is in the midst of confusion and needs a tremendous amount of support. Yes, she has sinned greatly. Yes, she has dug her own hole. Yes, she has committed adultery with the pastor. But at the moment of the fallout, how should the community of faith respond to her?

What are we to think of “the other woman”?

One of the most painful things for the church is that this woman has taken away the pastor who has led them and loved them for a long time. It’s hard for many people to feel anything but angst for the person who by their actions, took away their spiritual leader and hurt the pastor’s wife. So, it’s understandable if they don’t want to restore such a person to Christ. It’s understandable if the church leadership just wants to put her away from their sight.

But this is what makes the community of faith different, isn’t it? I’ve spoken with a lot of “other women” who have said, “the pastor told me he loved me. He said he would leave his wife for me. He said we would be together forever. When we got caught, the leadership got so mean and told me to leave. People started gossiping and people who were once my friends are now acting terribly.”

upsetwomanI get what’s behind the church’s actions and feelings. Hurt. Anger. I get that the church membership and leaders are in a precocious position.

That’s when we have to ask what the Christ-like response would be. What are we to do when it’s hard to love? What are we to do when we are hurt by others in the worst possible way? How are we to respond when we are betrayed by someone we thought was a friend?

Christ knew the answer and lived it. He was betrayed several times and in horrible ways and forgave freely.

Now, our forgiveness might take longer to digest and actualize, but it’s something worthwhile to work toward. In the meantime, if we are part of a community of faith, we need to view “the other woman” as a fallen person, like we are. A person created in the image of God, like us. Someone worth fighting for, worth saving, worth restoration. A person who has fallen as far as they can and who needs the hand of a fellow believer.

And if we aren’t in a position at that moment to provide that hand, we have to be willing to find someone who can until we can open the door far enough to begin the process of forgiveness and restoration.

Next time: “How do we help the other woman?”

If you’re “the other woman” you might want to check out my wife’s blog and my book. Other articles:

Forgiving the Other Woman” by Rebeca Seitz, from Crosswalk.com

Questions About Affairs From The Other Woman by Anne Bercht” – these are letters a Christian seminar group gets from “other women.” It’s an insight to the problems they suffer and they’re just like the problems we hear about, showing that these women need help.

_____________________

Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

Is Repentance Possible For The Fallen Pastor?

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, affair, forgiveness, pastors, repentance | Posted on 19-05-2014

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repentsWhen a pastor falls from the ministry, due to adultery, embezzlement, alcoholism, or whatever, the immediate desired response is that he repent on the spot. Repentance, as we know it, is a turning away from his sin and moving back toward God. Is repentance possible for the fallen pastor?

If he has left his wife or committed adultery, he needs to cut off all contact with the woman he is with and try to reconcile with his wife and family.

To do this, he needs the help of his church, counselors, and spiritual people who are willing to walk with him in restoration for a long time. It will be a difficult process. It will be a long process. In the beginning, he may not want to come back, but if he shows repentance, along with the support of the church, he may come back.

Even if he does, he will always have the albatross of sin tied around his neck for the rest of his life. I do know of many pastors who restored with their wives who reentered into ministry under the care of gracious churches.

That’s the easy one. Then we have the pastors, who I have written about extensively in my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” who for whatever reason, decided not to turn from their sin. In my book, I talk about the stages the pastor goes through in the early days of his fall. He is angry over a lot of things, he feels rejected, he knows he has sinned, yet he is looking to justify his sin.

Few reach out to him and often, the only friend he has is the woman he has chosen to be with. These aren’t excuses for anconflict unrepentant attitude, they are the reality in which he lives.

Which brings me to a most important point – his issues didn’t start overnight. He didn’t wake up one day and decide to commit adultery. His temptation was preceded by years of issues, conflict, marriage issues and ultimately, temptation. The confusion he now finds himself in are a result of his own sin and he has to face the consequences.

He may reach out to his wife at some point to discuss reconciliation to find it isn’t possible. He may not wait long enough for the anger to reside. He may just be stagnant in his sin and keep pushing on. He may just want to be with this new woman. Regardless, he has made his choice, leaving many people behind hurt and disillusioned.

Someday, though, the light goes on. It probably goes on after he’s remarried or after reconciliation with his wife has long passed. His heart begins to turn to God and He realizes he has sinned greatly, but there is little he can do about his sin.

He knows he can write letters of apology, call the church deacons, apologize to his former wife, family, but he cannot undo the past. He turns to God for forgiveness and God forgives. He always does.

King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, then to hide his sin, he had her husband murdered. There’s no reconciliation to be had there with anyone. But after his sin was discovered, he poured out his heart to God for forgiveness. But where’s the repentance? He can’t undo the adultery and murder. God wanted a repentant heart in David. And David was broken when he wrote Psalm 56 and I believe he turned his heart to God. He couldn’t un-murder Uriah, but he could repent for his actions.

There are many that believe that a fallen pastor who did not reconcile with his wife can never be truly repentant. They make a good point. Their point is that unless you go back to your wife and family, you are not repentant. You are still a sinner and out of the will of God.

I’ve posed this question to a lot of counselors and seminary professors and people with a much higher pay grade than me. Why? Not so I could justify myself. But because I want to be right with God. After my divorce, reconciliation was not to be had, I remarried and went on. I spent a  lot of time in anger and bitterness.

sinnomoreThen, I had my moment with God. My moment where I asked if I could be truly repentant. I was reminded of the woman caught in adultery. He told her to “Go and sin no more.” I was reminded of the tax collectors who came to Christ and the result of their life was to stop living in a way that was dishonoring to God. The thief on the cross was granted entrance into heaven based on his belief. Paul, on the road to Damascus, was transformed by Christ and his life took a turn completely God-ward.

None of these people could do anything about their past at that point. It was what it was. The tax collector refunded the people’s money. Some could go and apologize to those they had harmed. But Christ desired a heart change. He wanted them to “go and sin no more.” He wanted the sin they had committed that led them there to stop.

Quote me how divorce is adultery and remarriage is adultery. I understand. I understand the sins committed in those days were done out of my own selfishness, due to the circumstances around me, due to my own desire to sin. All my sin. But I also know I was forgiven.

And if I quote Hershael York once, I’ll quote him a thousand times. He said to me, “You have to make your repentance more notorious than your sin.” He wasn’t excusing what I had done, but recognizing that I had sinned. But now that I had, I had to live a life of holiness, a life pleasing to God.

Unfortunately, for the fallen pastor, for many, he will always be seen as the man with the Scarlet Letter emblazoned upon him. Not worthy of forgiveness or trust. Hated by many, scorned by his former pastor friends, and not worthy of any service to God. I know better. There is hope. God is never done with His servants who turn their hearts toward Him. God has forgotten your sin if you repent and turn away from former things. Even if others bring it up, God has cast it as far as the east is from the west.

If you’re a fallen pastor and are reading this, regardless of what stage you are in, there is hope for repentance. Deep down, you know what to do. Turn to God, seek Him and He will answer.

(This is a repost from a while back, but I thought it might help those who are new to the site – God bless).

Want to leave a comment? Click the “keep reading” button and join the conversation.

____________________________

Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

When “I’m Sorry” Isn’t Enough

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in forgiveness, reconciliation, regret, relationships, repentance, sorrow | Posted on 14-05-2014

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(This post was originally part of a larger series. You can find the original post here.)

sorrywmHave you ever been in a situation where you’ve either directly or indirectly wronged someone and come to the point where you knew it was time to say, “I’m sorry“? And what do we do when “I’m sorry” isn’t enough?

It’s not easy to ask for forgiveness. It is the right thing to do and it takes humility and the right heart.

I deal with fallen pastors a lot. I’m a fallen pastor myself. Those who fall from ministry hurt a lot of people. Usually, our first apologies are insincere and riddled with defensiveness and self-justification. But eventually, we come around when we are humbled by God and do offer a sincere, “I’m sorry.”

But it’s not just fallen pastors who ask for forgiveness. All of us find ourselves in need of forgiveness from someone we know. Whether it was a harsh word we spoke, an action we took, something foolish we said and we didn’t mean to, an act that caused harm, or any number of things – we all will end up saying those two words at some point, and hopefully in the right way.

In this post, I’d like to focus on those of us who ask for forgiveness. Let’s look at a few things that might impact us before or during our act of asking someone to forgive us.

1. Our repentance

When we sin, the first place we should go and ask forgiveness is to God. God requires us to be holy before Him. We are to repent and walk in holiness. Am I saying we are to be perfect? Nope. I am saying that whatever stage we are in past our sin, we are willing to toss it aside and cast it before God, asking Him for help.

Repentance is turning away from the sin you committed. Let me give you am different example. Imagine a husband is an alcoholic. The problem is not drinking, but drinking to chronic excess. It has made things terrible at home and at work. The morning after he wakes up, he feels remorse and asks his wife for forgiveness, only to return to a drunken state the next day. Is that repentance? No, it’s remorse. Repentance would be casting his sin before God, turning to someone for help and doing what it took to get help. His wife would likely never believe his “I’m sorry” as long as he was constantly drinking.

Now, if he got help, support and guidance for a while and was doing well, then great. What if he fell off the proverbial wagon? I would hope his wife would be understanding for that moment and help him back on his feet and back to those who were helping him. Is there ever a time when enough is enough? When someone seems irresponsible and lacking in contriteness? Sure – people will be known by their fruits.

But it’s a difficult call as to when to give up on someone. But each of us are responsible for our own sin and the consequences they bear. We are responsible for what we do before God. It is great to be accountable to people and surround yourself with help if you need it. If you’re sorry for your actions, make sure you learn from them.

2. Why are we apologizing?

What is our motive for apologizing? There are a lot of bad reasons to apologize to someone. When we are young and sorrybartplaying with a friend or sibling and we take away their toy, we get in trouble. What does Mom say? “Tell them you’re sorry or you’re going to get a spanking!” Out of our mouth comes an apology motivated by fear. I guess we learned to say “I’m sorry” under duress.

Are we saying we’re sorry to save face? To keep a job? To justify our sin? Because that’s what we were taught? So we can continue on with our sin secretly? So others will think well of us? Just to calm the other person down?

Take time to search your heart, pray and read the Scriptures about forgiveness. Ask yourself, “why am I actually apologizing?”

3. Does this person understand why I’m apologizing? Do I fully understand why?

Sometimes when we go to someone to ask for forgiveness, they may not understand why we’re there. We may perceive we have wronged them, but they may not see it that way. In fact, they may not even have known we had said or done anything wrong to them. Even if that’s the case, explain it. It might be a good teaching opportunity. It might help you get to know them better. Best of all, it will open communication with them, especially since you thought you harmed them and you might not have in the first place.

The more dangerous thing is when we have sinned against someone, but we don’t fully understand how badly we have hurt them. Sometimes we do not understand the full implication or consequences of the sin we committed. At the same time, we may have done something to someone and didn’t realize we have done it. That’s even worse. The only way we can know is if they or someone else tells us.

Either way, don’t get angry if they show emotion at how badly you hurt them. Just listen. You’re there to apologize, not get angry at their reaction. If they are hurt, listen. Tell them you didn’t understand how badly you had hurt them. Saying “I’m sorry” isn’t just about the words, it’s about the healing of a relationship.

4. Above all else, be sincere by showing love and grace

The words, “I’m sorry” have probably come to sound as meaningless to most people as the words, “I love you.” Have you ever had one of your kids (or if you can remember being a kid) say to you “I’m sorry” in that dragged out tone that tells you they are anything but sorry?

sorrycoupThese two words ought to be spoken with the full import of the sin you committed against that person. It should be wrapped in the compassion knowing that you hurt them. It should be shrouded in the love and grace of Christ, hoping to restore a relationship that has been harmed. And it should always be rooted in the reminder of the forgiveness that Christ showed us.

Lastly, do it in person if at all possible. If you can’t, write a letter. Don’t cheapen an apology by texting it or sending a Facebook inbox message. If you are separated by miles and think a phone call will do, then try that. But face to face is the best policy.

Asking for forgiveness is a difficult thing. But when we judge our own motives, do it with the right heart, and express it with love and kindness, it can always be easier.

Want to leave a comment? Click the “keep reading” button and join the conversation.

____________________________

Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

Why Churches Aren’t Growing: Transparency & The Fallen Church

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in apology, bitterness, church, church face, church members, community, evangelism, fallenness, forgiveness, ministry, reconciliation, relationships, restoration | Posted on 12-05-2014

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altarSo if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV)

I write a lot about reconciliation and forgiveness. There are several reasons for this.

First, I was horrible at it before I fell. I was an awful example to my family, my friends, and my congregation. I now know what it’s like to be the one who desperately wants to be reconciled with people I have harmed.

Secondly, one of my reasons for blogging is that I want to see churches and fallen pastors reconcile. Some churches actually handle the process the right way. They approach the pastor when they discover his indiscretion, they help he and his family get help as they depart and stay in contact with him.

However, this is a rarity. Most churches harbor bitterness, anger, and never get over the event. I do not believe this is the will of Christ. As the verse above states (and many others), those who have been sinned against should be the initiators of reconciliation and forgiveness. As I have stated before, this does not mean letting the minister back to a place of authority necessarily, but it does mean love and forgiveness.

There are a lot of verses about forgiveness. Some put the onus on the one who sinned. But the verse above and others put the responsibility on the one who was sinned against.

In the Southern Baptist Convention, there are literally hundreds of churches that have been hurt by fallen pastors. Some of these churches have not made amends or reconciled with these pastors.

Do not hear me placing full blame on these churches. If you’ve read my previous posts on the matter, you will know that is not how I feel. angry churchThese men fell and sinned. Sometimes, they get pompous after their fall and immediately try to return to ministry. They become recalcitrant and egotistical. I understand that.

However, there is a responsibility for churches to reconcile with repentant fallen pastors.

The majority of our Southern Baptist churches are not growing. There are many reasons for this. Could I suggest that one of the many reasons for it is that we have a lot of junk in our souls that needs to be cleansed?

I know of one local church whose pastor left forty years ago on bad terms. He didn’t even sin morally. It was just a bad situation where he got into an argument with a deacon and his family who “ran the church.” Ever since that time, the church has replaced the pastor every three years like clockwork. The family who was “in charge” is still there running the show.

When you ask an outsider what is going on at that church they always point back at the event that happened forty years ago. That’s a shame.

That makes me concerned about churches all across the nation. It makes me concerned about the church where I fell, and it is my fault. It makes me concerned about the churches where other pastors fell who haven’t taken the time to heal or reconcile with the pastor.

Two things are happening in churches like that. First, a dynamic of distrust can set in where congregations will always have a weary eye of the pastor. And secondly, if the people never forgive, there is the constant sin of unforgiveness in the midst that will hinder worship, growth, and spiritual awareness.

I had a funny thought about evangelism as well. Would churches affected by a fall be less likely to evangelize? Would they be less likely to invite people in knowing that they might have potential sins to deal with?

In our Southern Baptist churches, we do a superb job of putting on a “happy face” each Sunday. We sit up straight, sing when we’re cued to, and shake hands.

nogrowthIf you have kids though, you know that the ride to church is completely different. “Don’t hit your sister! Be quiet back there! You’d better stop complaining about going to church! Don’t act up during the sermon this week!

And each Sunday during Sunday School a topic will come up and we’ll shake our heads at the sinful topic brought up. Lust? “We shouldn’t do that, but you know everyone struggles once in a while.” Greed? “That’s a terrible thing, we should store up our treasures in heaven.” Anger? “Well, righteous anger is fine, but Jesus said love your neighbor.

What if we were transparent during Sunday School? Lust? “Yes, I fight it daily, friends. Each day I struggle. Will you please pray for me?” Greed? “I’ve run three credit cards past their limit and it’s out of control.” Anger? “Me and my wife are having problems. I need help from someone. Can anyone here help me?

What about during the week? What if we acted at church like we did at work? What if the pastor walked in on us at our most sinful moment? What if people saw us worried about our finances, fighting with our spouses, angry with our co-workers, cussing at the mechanic who messed up our car, kicking the cat, etc.?

If we acted at church like we did during the week – now that would be transparent. To have people see us as we really are – broken, sinful, wrecked, miserable, depressed. Because under those Baptist smiles are broken, sinful people who really need help.

When I was a pastor and would go to my bi-vocational job, people would cuss in front of me without knowing I was a pastor. When they found out, they’d say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were a preacher.”

I’d say, “Why are you sorry to me? You didn’t do anything to me. Be yourself.”computer

Why don’t we act around our church friends like we do around our weekday friends? We’re not transparent.

But guess what? God sees right through us. And yet, He loves us still. He shows us grace and mercy.

But, if one of us sees a church member sin or a church leader fall, we judge them harshly. And quickly. And we gossip. No grace. No mercy. Only judgment.

Know why we’re in decline? Because most of us (and I’m including myself in this) don’t look a thing like Christ and His grace when it comes to dealing with one another, much less non-Christians.

We haven’t forgiven those who have sinned against us. We harbor anger, bitterness and rage when long ago we should have reached out and shown mercy as Christ has shown to us.

But strangely enough, each of us will pile into our cars on Sunday, looking our best, put on our Baptist smiles and push down our troubles.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If we were all transparent, (because we practiced being real in front of one another) if we left our Baptist smiles at the door, shared our hurts with one another, reconciled our pasts, then looked out into our community and realized that we’re just like everyone else, we might just be fueled for evangelism.

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1 ESV)

Want to leave a comment? Click the “keep reading” button and join the conversation.

____________________________

Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

Fallen Pastors and Divorce

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, affair, Allison, conflict, culture, divorce, fallenness, forgiveness, grace, Hershael York, marriage, reconciliation, relationships | Posted on 25-04-2014

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2percentThis isn’t an easy post. Some fallen pastors who have committed adultery end up with the woman they commit adultery with. I was one. How should we approach the issue of fallen pastors and divorce?

Let me share with you a couple of things before I start. The statistic is non-negotiable – 2% of marriages that are built on adultery succeed. You get that? That means if you marry someone that you commit adultery with, you are looking down the barrel of a 98% failure rate.

Now, let me share with you this quote from Dr. Hershael York, preaching professor who I interviewed for my book. He had a great reason why marriages built on affairs don’t really last. It’s because when you’re engaged in an affair, it’s really a fantasy world that you can come and go from. It’s not a true relationship that is founded on the marriage ideal:

Every time you have an affair with anybody, I don’t care who you are, in a sense, you’re having an affair with a fantasy and not a real person. Because the person you’ve got to pay the mortgage with, deal with the kids’ soccer schedule with, the one whose vomit you wipe up when they’re sick, that’s the real person you live with. Twenty minutes in the sack on a Tuesday afternoon is really not love. You’ve got to tell yourself that. You’ve got to awaken yourself to the fact that it’s fantasy. If you end up with the person you had an affair with, I guarantee you once you get married you have to face the same issues and same struggles. You cannot take two totally depraved human beings, stick them in the same house and not have friction.” (Fallen Pastor, p. 172)

He’s right. The thrill of the affair is not the same as a marriage covenant.

I did in fact, marry Allison, who was the woman I met and had an affair with. We are still here after four years. We are not the norm. I do not encourage fallen pastors to run after the women they had an affair with. For some reason, Allison and I have made it work. She is great for me. She loves me for who I am and I love her with all my heart. Does that make our sin right? Nope. But we are here, attempting to move on past what we did and trying to live a life of holiness.

I’ve often said that pastors don’t just wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll commit adultery today.” They don’t. It takes a long time to get to that point. Know this – their sin is their responsibility. There are factors that weaken them and I list them in my book – poor relationship with spouse, overly high expectations, church conflict, isolation and many times a huge trauma.

pastorkidsOne thing that many fallen pastors don’t think about is what the fallout will be. When I was on the road to leaving my wife and the ministry, I just knew I wanted to be with Allison. I knew it would cost me my job and the contact I had with my children.

When I finally got caught, it became more real to me. It was all over. All of it. Especially the contact I would have with my children.

I won’t sit here and tell you that it was an easy thing. It was the most difficult thing. In fact, all of the fallen pastors I talk to tell me that losing full time contact with their children in cases of divorce is the most devastating thing for them.

There are some statistics that should bother anyone involved in church today. The statistic that a vast majority of ministry couples feel that serving in the church has a detrimental effect upon their marriage. That most ministry couples experience anxiety and depression.

People ask me, “Would you do it again if you had the chance?” I don’t like hypothetical questions. What I do consider is being able to provide for my children, making sure they are happy, and being involved with them and being free to talk with them when they desire.

They are daddy’s girls. I am proud to say they love me. We discuss things that I know they only share with me. They know what I did was a sin, but they love me anyway.

Divorce is a terrible, sinful thing. They know this. But each time I see them, they wrap their arms around me and call me “Daddy.” They love me despite my flaws and care about the ministry I’m involved in now.

What is the point I’m driving at? Well, there are two. First, if you are a pastor who is thinking about adultery, please think about the consequences. If you fall, it will effect everyone around you. Your church, your wife, your kids and people in the community. If there is something there to salvage, work on it.

Secondly, if you have fallen, do what it takes to work things out with your family. Your kids, parents, siblings, trustgrandparents, whomever. Not everyone will be easy to trust or forgive you right away. You need to understand that you are the one who sinned. If you are truly repentant and understand grace, then you will give people time to heal.

Divorce is a serious thing. Fallen pastors, are you ready to go into those proceedings? Many hurt pastor’s wives want to leave you immediately. It’s because they are hurt. They often listen to the counsel of their family or those in the church who are hurt as they are. If you want your wife back, try to get an impartial mediator involved.

If divorce is pursued, seek the heart of Christ. Don’t be an angry person. Always be thinking about your children. Don’t respond with hatred when hatred is thrown back at you. Remember that the reason your spouse is acting as she does is because you did what you did. Show true, repentant humility.

You might not be able to stop a divorce, but beginning with true, Christ-like humility can put you on the right step toward a lifetime journey of repentance and holiness.

Finally, I will tell you this. When a wife has been cheated on, she has the right to be angry. Don’t expect her to forgive you or gain your trust overnight. I’ve seen a lot of fallen pastors say to their wives within months of the act of adultery, “God says you should forgive me.” Wrong approach. When we commit adultery, we have caused depths of hurt that we do not understand.

Step back, repent to God and allow Him to work on the hearts of others. Know that trust takes a long time to be restored. It may never be restored. I’ve seen fallen pastors whose wives never forgive them or always hold their adultery over their head.

How does one respond to that? With grace. With the same grace we desire after we committed adultery. We cannot expect to change anyone’s heart but our own. When you sin, turn to God. Allow Him to change in you what it is that went wrong. Even if your marriage ends in divorce, be patient with others. Allow God to make you a new person.

As Dr. York taught me, “Make your repentance more notorious than your sin.”

Want to leave a comment? Click the “keep reading” button and join the conversation.

____________________________

Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

Jesus Took My Scarlet Letter and Stomped On It

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, brokenness, fallenness, forgiveness, jesus, sin | Posted on 23-04-2014

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arkI remember the day I got my Scarlet Letter. You don’t need to know the details. There’s enough about it in my blog history or my book.

For the first week or so, I thought about the fact that I had committed adultery. By the time I had gotten to the act of it, my heart had already hardened to the degree that it hadn’t mattered. The relationship between myself and my wife had been troubled for a long time. In my book, I talk about how most fallen pastors have a terrible relationship with their wife before they commit adultery (I also give statistics on how the ministry can have disastrous effects on a marriage).

I was ready to get out of ministry. Most fallen pastors are. They are tired of conflict, interpersonal turmoil and dealing with difficult people. I wanted out. Are those excuses for sin? Nope. But pastors can face extreme circumstances that can lead them to a dangerous place if they aren’t aware of them or know how to deal with stress.

But I don’t know how to describe the day that I first felt the sting of sin. The fact that there was a definite mark on my soul. In fact, it was like it was there on my skin. For everyone to see. But no one could. No one knew my sin. I had been able to hide it from everyone. But it didn’t take long for it to be discovered.

When my scarlet letter was revealed, it soon became a mark of ridicule, shame, guilt and public disgrace.

There he goes! What would your mother have thought? You are such a hypocrite! Your poor wife! Look what you’ve hesterdone to her and your family! You are such a terrible person!

I sank so low. Because what they were saying hit so close to home. I couldn’t keep my head up in public. When I walked out in grocery stores, department stores or anywhere, I kept my head down. I didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone, fearing that I might see scorn in someone’s eye. I deserved it all. It was the consequence of my sin.

This is typical for a fallen pastor. I deleted my Facebook account because I was getting threats, nasty messages and angry notes. I responded to some of them in anger, to my shame.

Did I repent? Did I run to God? No. I thought, and just for anonymous examples: “Why should I be branded with a great red ‘A’ on my body? I know the sins of people in my church and they are just as bad! Why not a ‘G‘ for gossip? Why not a ‘I‘ for illegitimate child? Why not a ‘T‘ for thief? Why not a ‘D‘ for drug addict? How about an ‘L‘ for living together?I wrongly pointed my judgment outward instead of inward. I was angry.

Instead of repentance, I wanted to throw down hatred toward the people who were judging me. How dare they? They were sinners like me! They had no right! And worse, they were making me out to be the biggest sinner in recent memory. I got angrier. More bitter. Defensive. I got more detached from God.

I knew full well that there was a blood red A for adultery on my chest for everyone to see. But instead of repentance, I responded with an angry attitude of, “Come look at it! Here it is! But make sure you check your sins at the door!”

That was not the right attitude. It was sinful. I see that now.

This is the best example of longsuffering I could find. Apologies to Cubs fans.

This is the best example of longsuffering I could find. Apologies to Cubs fans.

Where was God during this time? Thankfully, He had not given up on me. He was patient, longsuffering and forgiving. But He also was getting ready to deal with me in His own way. Eventually, He pointed me to Scripture. In His time, He showed me that I had sinned greatly. I had fallen. I was responsible for my sin. No one else was. Just me.

I remember the day that happened. I opened my bible to John 8, the passage where Jesus encounters the adulterous woman. That day, that woman had no other friend but Christ. On the day that He finally broke and humbled me, I had no other friend but Christ.

The “A” that was emblazoned on my chest, my soul, my heart was weighing heavy. I didn’t think I would ever escape it. When people looked at me, I could see that they saw an adulterous pastor. At least, I could see that they were disappointed in me. They felt sorry for me. They felt I would never be the same or whole again.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book, Hester Prynne takes time to embellish the Scarlet Letter she is bound to wear in public. She makes it part of her daily dress. She makes no shame of it while the townspeople scorn her. But the good news is, we don’t have to embellish our sin and make it part of us. We can be free from it.

The day that I finally listened to God, the day that I turned my heart back to him after my sin, He made me whole. He ripped that “A” off my soul. He took it and cast it as far as the east is from the west. I learned that if anyone remembers that sin, it is me. That day, He took that Scarlet Letter that I had acquired because of my sin – it was all mine for the bearing and it was all my fault – Jesus took my Scarlet Letter and stomped on it.

And if anyone holds that sin against me to this day, it is me. People in my community still talk about it, still look at me in shame and disgust, but they are not God. The person who reminds me of it the most is me. I seem to be the one who, in my deepest anxiety cries out, “Lord, I don’t deserve your grace, I deserve death. I committed adultery. I lied, cheated and tore people apart!” His response? “I stomped on that a long time ago. You go live. Sin no more.”

scarletNo one, not even God, can hold me accountable for that Scarlet Letter on judgment day. Christ bore that sin at Calvary. It pains me to no end to know that He had to bear the punishment for my sin upon Him for the sin that I committed. My sin cost Him pain.

In the end, though, there is no longer an “A” to be seen. No mark on my soul. No mark on my sin. No mark to be embroidered on my wife or myself. We have been forgiven by a kind and true Savior. Anyone who desires to hold us culpable must first go to the truest Judge in the universe.

The Scarlet Letter has been ripped from my soul by my savior. When I imagine it might be there, it is miraculously gone. When people look at me like some kind of leper, or imagine they see a bright, shining “A“, they are mistaken. It is only a figment of their imagination. They are free to look me all over, only to find nothing but the righteousness of Christ. It is all because of Christ’s painful, solemn, redeeming work at the cross.

Something I will never get over. Something I never fully understood before I fell from ministry.

The best news I have is this – if you have sinned, you have hope. Cast your sins upon the lawmaker, the lawgiver, and the one who has satisfied us from the bounds of sin. What more could we ask? Once you repent and walk in the way of holiness, you are free forever. It’s not a trick, it’s freedom that our heavenly father gives us. Walk in it.

Let him erase that terrible mark. He does not desire guilt for His children. He desires our freedom.

Walk in it.

I remember the day I got my Scarlet Letter. You don’t need to know the details. There’s enough about it in my blog history or my book.

For the first week or so, I thought about the fact that I had committed adultery. By the time I had gotten to the act of it, my heart had already hardened to the degree that it hadn’t mattered. The relationship between myself and my wife had been sour for years. In my book, I talk about how most fallen pastors have a terrible relationship with their wife before they commit adultery.

I was ready to get out of ministry. Most fallen pastors are. They are tired of conflict, interpersonal turmoil and dealing with difficult people. I wanted out. I loved Allison too. That made a huge difference.

But I don’t know how to describe the day that I first felt the sting of sin. The fact that there was a definite mark on my soul. In fact, it was like it was there on my skin. For everyone to see. But no one could. No one knew my sin. I had been able to hide it from everyone. But it didn’t take long for it to be discovered.

When my scarlet letter was revealed, it soon became a mark of ridicule, shame, guilt and public disgrace.

There he goes! What would your mother have thought? You are such a hypocrite! Your poor wife! Look what you’ve hesterdone to her and your family! You are such a terrible person!

I sank so low. Because what they were saying hit so close to home. I couldn’t keep my head up in public. When I walked out in grocery stores, department stores or anywhere, I kept my head down. I didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone, fearing that I might see scorn in someone’s eye.

This is typical for a fallen pastor. I deleted my Facebook account because I was getting threats, nasty messages and angry notes. I responded to some of them in anger, to my shame.

Did I repent? Did I run to God? No. I thought, and just for anonymous examples: “Why should I be branded with a great red ‘A’ on my body? I know the sins of people in my church and they are just as bad! Why not a ‘G‘ for gossip? Why not a ‘I‘ for illegitimate child? Why not a ‘T‘ for thief? Why not a ‘D‘ for drug addict? How about an ‘L‘ for living together?” I pointed my judgment outward instead of inward. I was angry.

Instead of repentance, I wanted to throw down hatred toward the people who were judging me. How dare they? They were sinners like me! They had no right! And worse, they were making me out to be the biggest sinner in recent memory. I got angrier. More bitter. Defensive. I got more detached from God.

I knew full well that there was a blood red A for adultery on my chest for everyone to see. But instead of repentance, I responded with an angry attitude of, “Come look at it! Here it is! But make sure you check your sins at the door!”

That was not the right attitude. It was sinful. I see that now.

Where was God during this time? Thankfully, He had not given up on me. He was patient, longsuffering and forgiving. But He also was getting ready to deal with me in His own way.Eventually, he pointed me to Scripture. In His time, He showed me that I had sinned greatly. I had fallen. I was responsible for my sin. No one else was. Just me. I remember the day that happened. I opened my bible to John 8, the passage where Jesus encounters the adulterous woman. That day, that woman had no other friend but Christ. On the day that I finally broke, I had no other friend but Christ.

The “A” that was emblazoned on my chest, my soul, my heart was weighing heavy. I didn’t think I would ever escape it. When people looked at me, I could see that they saw an adulterous pastor. At least, I could see that they were disappointed in me. They felt sorry for me. They felt I would never be the same or whole again.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book, Hester Prynne takes time to embellish the Scarlet Letter she is bound to wear in public. She makes it part of

This is the best example of longsuffering I could find. Apologies to Cubs fans.

This is the best example of longsuffering I could find. Apologies to Cubs fans.

her daily dress. She makes no shame of it while the townspeople scorn her. But the good news is, we don’t have to embellish our sin and make it part of us. We can be free from it.

The day that I finally listened to God, the day that I turned my heart back to him after my sin, He made me whole. He ripped that “A” off my soul. He took it and cast it as far as the east is from the west. I learned that if anyone remembers that sin, it is me. That day, He took that Scarlet Letter that I had acquired because of my sin – it was all mine for the bearing and it was all my fault – and He stomped on it.

And if anyone holds that sin against me to this day, it is me. People in my community still talk about it, still look at me in shame and disgust, but they are not God. The person who reminds me of it the most is me. I seem to be the one who, in my deepest anxiety cries out, “Lord, I don’t deserve your grace, I deserve death. I committed adultery. I lied, cheated and tore people apart!” His response? “I stomped on that a long time ago. You go live. Sin no more.”

scarletNo one, not even God, can hold me accountable for that Scarlet Letter on judgment day. Christ bore that sin at Calvary. It pains me to no end to know that He had to bear the punishment for my sin upon Him for the sin that I committed. My sin cost Him pain.

In the end, though, there is no longer an “A” to be seen. No mark on my soul. No mark on my sin. No mark to be embroidered on my wife or myself. We have been forgiven by a kind and true Savior. Anyone who desires to hold us culpable must first go to the truest judge in the universe.

The Scarlet Letter has been ripped from my soul by my savior. When I imagine it might be there, it is miraculously gone. When people look at me like some kind of leper, or imagine they see a bright, shining “A“, they are mistaken. It is only a figment of their imagination. They are free to look me all over, only to find nothing but the righteousness of Christ. It is all because of Christ’s painful, solemn, redeeming work at the cross.

Something I will never get over. Something I never fully understood before I fell from ministry.

The best news I have is this – if you have sinned, you have hope. Cast your sins upon the lawmaker, the lawgiver, and the one who has satisfied us from the bounds of sin. What more could we ask? Once you repent and walk in the way of holiness, you are free forever. It’s not a trick, it’s freedom that our heavenly father gives us. Walk in it.

Let him erase that terrible mark. He does not desire guilt for His children. He desires our freedom.

Walk in it.

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Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

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