An Open Letter to Idolators Like Me
I recently received a text from a friend - “Isn’t this your man?” Along with this short question was a link to an open letter of confession from a pastor who was one of my heroes in the faith. I had seen my friend at a conference in the spring and had told him he needed to listen to this pastor’s sermons because it was my opinion that he was/is the most gifted expositor alive today.
My family and I were on vacation and I made the mistake of reading the confession in the grocery store as we made our way up and down the aisles. I’m usually not very helpful in grocery stores (other than setting a bad example for our kids by trying to sneak candy and other junk food into the shopping cart) but I was especially useless that night as I read the words of this pastor who was admitting infidelity to his wife and admitting disqualification as an elder.
I was crushed. I don’t use those words lightly. As a matter of fact, it’s been a long time since I have felt that kind of blow to the soul. I kept hoping the next sentence would contain the punchline and that this would be some kind of joke in bad taste. I was willing to forgive for being suckered. But, as I got to the end of the letter, there was no wool to be peeled back from my eyes.
How could this be? How could this man, my hero, find himself picking up the pieces after falling for the sin he was guilty of? I fumbled around the grocery store that night, heartbroken from the news of this fall, and remember having several thoughts that crossed my mind, one right after the other.
The first was fear. This pastor would have been the absolute last pastor I could have ever suspected would fall into this kind of sin. This man’s theology was tight. His doctrine was spot on. His care for the Word and feeding his congregation was evident in every sermon I heard him preach. This man could see things in Scripture that were a direct result of him spending hours in the Word of his God. If this man could fall, how much more susceptible am I?
This man’s doctrine, I thought, was a clear indication of his devotion. In that moment I was reminded that good doctrine is no substitute for holiness. If I want to maintain this ministry God has blessed me with I must make sure my zeal for a life of purity takes the lead over my zeal for being right. At the end of the day, this pastor’s doctrine did not keep him from sin. He knew all of the right answers but didn’t put them into practice.
The second thing I felt was sadness. Sadness for this man’s wife and family, for the other family that is affected by this sin, for the congregation that is reeling from the loss of their pastor, and for the man himself.
Our sin is a wrecking ball and its destruction always brings with it collateral damage. Wrecking balls aren’t instruments of precision and neither is our sin. I make decisions everyday that not only impact me but also everyone around me. I needed this reminder but it came at the incredible cost of another man’s ministry and impact that his sin has had on those around him.
The final thing that crossed my mind that evening in the grocery store was, “How much greater is Jesus than the greatest of men?” The failure of this man I had held up as a hero in the faith caused me to worship Jesus. Perhaps I had made this man an idol, sinning in the process. Maybe that’s why this stung so sharply. I had given worship to him rather than to the One it was truly owed. If this man had fallen, this man that I thought could never have done such an egregious thing, how much more superior is my Savior?
Jesus, who had all of the efforts and schemes of the dominion of darkness aimed at Him. Jesus, who had emptied Himself, took on the form of a servant, was born in the likeness of men, suffered when He was tempted and is able to help those who are being tempted. Jesus, the High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, because in every respect He has been tempted as we are, yet without sin!
In that moment in the grocery store I saw Jesus like I had never seen Him before. I understood His magnificence in a way that I had never before. It was no longer a concept to be grasped but a reality to be appreciated and enjoyed. I worshiped Jesus there in the aisles of that grocery store because He is worthy of my love, trust, and admiration.
I don’t think it’s wrong to have heroes in the faith. I think, however, we should never expect out of them what only Jesus can do.
So, along with my brother who is suffering through the destruction this sin has brought into his life and the lives of those around him, I repent. I repent of my idolatry. I repent of my apathetic view of sin. I repent of my not giving Jesus my full devotion and giving to men only what Jesus deserves.
My friend and I exchanged a few more texts after I read the confession. I told him how heartbroken I was but how this had opened my eyes even wider to the superiority of Jesus. My friend’s final words to me that night were these, “It forces me to beg, beg, beg God to protect me from shaming His name.”
May we learn from the sin of others but may we also exhort one another every day that none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and in doing so bring shame to our great God.