By: Shane James O’Neill
A Pastor Falls
My pastor fell to unfaithfulness at my childhood church. I really liked him. His teaching was captivating, he was personable, he had children my age. He was kind and he listened.
The infidelity wasn’t overt; he didn’t sleep with another woman. My pastor pursued another woman emotionally and he allowed her to know his deeper burdens, his loneliness, his dreams and hurts. He kept his wife and family away from his interior world and instead brought this other woman in. His sin was emotional infidelity, with the impending danger of physical unfaithfulness. When we give our passions to a person the body soon follows.
At some point his emotional infidelity came out. I’m not sure how it went down; if he confided in a friend who made him tell his wife who in turn went to the church leadership, or if it was some other turn of events. However it happened, it was announced to the church that this pastor would be stepping down.
Like any large church, gossip and scandal spread quickly; stories and speculation would suck life from the body like fat flies in a Floridian swamp. No one wanted to be the center of attention, not for very long. Least of all the person on stage.
It was a rather large church, easy to get lost in and easy to disappear from. But this pastor, now shamed and jobless, stayed at that church to pursue his wife and his children. He didn’t run. He could have disappeared; they could have disappeared: his wife was shamed too.
He stayed and received discipline and, in turn, church reconciliation. They endured the rumors and the guilt. Why? For two reasons. One, they wanted to be faithfully committed to the church. The violation of one covenant isn’t made right by violating another. The second reason, to show thousands of people what it looks like to pursue grace and let Jesus restore a family with His love and honor.
A Humble God
PROVEN, in Proven Men, is an acronym for our vision of what a person pursuing Christ’s image looks like. The P stands for passionate for God.
There is a stereotypical image of a person passionate for God who never falls — they’re strong, sturdy, smart, self-sufficient, defending truth, challenging culture and the sins of those around them. I’m not sure if such a person exists, and if they do exist, if that likeness is even helpful. Someone may respond, saying that Jesus was such a person. Yet Jesus intentionally led in weakness, allowing us all to see His most private and vulnerable moments in a garden and making His most humiliating moment, the dusk of His life, the dawn and day of our salvation.
By His death, we have life.
The humility of God shatters the strength of man (Phil. 2). And His humility keeps us from believing that passion for Him is rooted in our strength. We’re all just jars of clay. God shines out of the cracks in our lives. When we forget that and hide our cracks then we’re only concealing the power of God within us: (2 Cor. 4).
We aren’t doing ourselves or anyone else a favor by hiding our weaknesses. Thank God our Messiah didn’t avoid vulnerability or hide His weakness.
Passionate for What?
If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’ve already failed at being the kind of ‘passionate for God’ that never fails. Yet, it is also likely that you’re still pretending to be that kind of Christian. I invite you, because Jesus invites us, to live faith differently; to live your faith like my childhood pastor did — in light.
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Being passionate for God isn’t about not failing, it’s about being passionate for His embrace as we live and when we fail. He already sees you: He knows all the ways you hide and hurt. Being passionate for God is allowing Him to know you at your worst, not just your best. To be passionate for God is to invite Him into the small and ugly moments of your life and to believe that He is in fact good.
My childhood pastor, he pastored again. He regained a beautiful relationship with his wife and children. He recovered honor by those at our church through his simple humility to stay. After years of work, he pastored again. Shortly after being reaffirmed this dear man passed away — as though Jesus was waiting for that restoring moment before He allowed His son to see Him face to face.
Your story may be ugly, mine is, but then so was my pastor’s. Yet that’s what Jesus does: freedom from slavery, hope from despair, honor from shame, flowers from thorns, life from the dead.
Become a person passionate for God by realizing that He’s passionate for you.
Shane James O’Neill is the Editorial Director for Proven Men Ministries. He is currently working on a graduate degree in apologetics at Liberty University’s Rawling School of Divinity.