The Tuesday right after Easter I wrote a blog post that was half a response to the announcement of a friend’s upcoming job termination and half a struggle with current trends in the church, particularly as it relates to my denomination. If you haven’t read it, you can read it here.
My struggle is that there seem to be mobs out there who want to banish from the church those who think differently. In the post I wondered how I would survive if such a mob ever managed to crucify my career. In the Spirit of Easter, I claimed the resurrection hope that God would meet me in that painful situation and bring new life out of it.
The post was written with great amounts of passion, apparently a relatable one as that post is still my most successful post to date.
What I am about to write comes from an equal amount of passion, albeit a different kind of passion. In fact, this post is in many ways an inverse of that last one.
Because as much as I am afraid that a scapegoating mob will crucify my career while I am innocent, I am much more terrified that I will deserve a crucifixion for gross sin or negligence.
Will I fall to the temptation to have an extramarital affair?
Will I stumble into online porn? (It is unlikely at this point but still possible.)
Will my marriage crumble spectacularly overnight? (Very likely and more likely until we celebrate our 40th anniversary by the odds.)
Will I accidentally lose my temper and strike a parishioner? (There are days when that temptation is more real than others.)
Will I become lazier and lazier and not do the work to which I am called? (I might all ready be at that point.)
Or will my epic tumble be less epic? Will it just be a growing pride and arrogance that refuses to admit when I am wrong and own my bad decisions? (There are close calls of this nature almost every week.)
I have watched all these things happen to people who were thought to be much more holy than me. I have seen calm, gentle pastors buckle under the stresses of the job and lash out. I have seen an otherwise humble pastor suddenly choose the most pitiful and absurd molehill to die on, like paint color in the sanctuary. And, of course, I have seen my fair share of extramarital affairs and divorces among the clergy.
And I am not guaranteed to avoid any of that. It is true that I have had an excellent formation and training that at least helps me see temptation when it is coming. I have wonderful mentors and friends who speak the truth in love. I regularly practice disciplines of prayer, fasting, silence, solitude and exercise that keeps me calm and humble. But none of that makes me immune from the cliff falls from grace.
In fact, most days I think there is a 75% chance that my crucifixion will be a result of my own guilty choices, compared to the 25% that it will just be an angry mob looking for an innocent victim.
On those days I wonder how I will fail. I wonder what the price for my wife, children and congregation will be. And I wonder how I will possibly be able to get out of bed the next day if it ever should happen.
And every day I feel like my crucifixion is almost a guarantee. After all, ministry is truly a dangerous line of work.
But as we approach the Ascension and climb that soon to be empty hilltop with the disciples, I find an incredible amount of hope. The Ascension is that wonderful day when Jesus not only showed off his super power of flight, but also sat down at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. There he represent us, the church, as both head and priest.
The Apostle Paul uses the word “energeo” in Ephesians 1 to describe the Ascension. It is the same word we use for “energize.” The Ascension energized the great power of God, the power that is now fully displayed in us the church, which Paul says is, “the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.”
I think that means that the charged up power of God is at work whether we are faithful or unfaithful. If ever I should fail, whether in gross immorality or in spiritual weakness, I still trust my head and my priest who sits at the right hand of God our Father. After all the church is much bigger than my bad choices and though I may cause pain, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I know a great healer who can forgive, redeem and reconcile the consequences of my bad decisions.
In closing, the old Christian rock band D.C. Talk has a song on their “Jesus Freak” album called, “What if I Stumble,” that struggles with these same issues through these lyrics,
What if I stumble
What if I fall?
What if I lose my step
And I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue
When my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble
And what if I fall?
At the end of the song they claim the love of Christ by saying,
I hear You (God) whispering my name
You say, “My love for You will never change.”
And that whisper is enough to get me out of bed tomorrow.