Yesterday I told a large group of men something very personal that very few people know about my life. It was pretty scary territory for me on a number of levels. What they’d think about me if they knew the truth was the most frightening.
I’ve been teaching a four-part Bible study entitled Man vs. World to a group of about ninety men at our church the last couple of Monday evenings. I have become increasingly concerned about the challenges men are facing in a world that is utterly opposed to most everything about faith in Jesus Christ. It’s tough these days to be a man who is trying to live his life as a disciple of Jesus.
As a pastor, sharing really personal information about oneself can be really risky. You just never know what some people are going to do with the information. Some will share it with people who weren’t in the room without the entire context and it will be passed on from there in a way it was never intended. Some people will take the information and stick it in their back pocket to be used at a later date if they should ever need to accuse you with it. And others will allow it to become an issue with them about whether you are, in fact, worthy to be their spiritual teacher or leader. In other words, they have an image of what a pastor should be, expectations for what kind of spiritual life you should have, and when they learn differently, they are disappointed.
It is why a lot of pastors are very guarded, or at least, careful with just how much they reveal about themselves. Trust me, it can be a pretty lonely world inside the head and heart of the average pastor. You’re not always afforded the same grace (or confidentiality) that you seek to extend to others.
After last night’s study and sharing a bit of my history in regards to a particular struggle with sin in my life, I was a bit shaken by how I felt. While I was encouraged by the words of affirmation and appreciation by a number of the men who attended the study, I couldn’t shake the feelings of embarrassment, shame and fear. I returned home, ate some dinner, visited a bit with my family before everybody’s bedtime and watched a little Sports Center on television. However, the entire rest of my evening was overshadowed by these very strange feelings of discouragement for having shared any of what I had told the guys in the room that evening.
I concluded that it was the Evil One, my Archenemy, just trying to take what I had done and use it against me. He’s like that, you know?
I was really bothered; nervous, imagining the worse.
Right before I turned in for the evening, I checked the emails and messages on my cell-phone. I realized I had not taken the time that day to read the daily devotional that arrives on my phone. With a tad bit of curiosity, I was a little intrigued at just what the day’s reading might have been and if it might somehow apply to what I was feeling at the moment.
I really needed God’s word to speak to me in a very real way. And I didn’t want to have to work too hard to “try” to make it fit what I needed. I was in no mood for “make-believe.” I was feeling very candid at the moment; a test of sorts as to if the Scriptures really could meet me where I was at that very moment.
The day’s Scripture passage was Psalm 103:12.
“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”
The accompanying reflection was as follows.
“East and west can never meet. This is a symbolic portrait of God’s forgiveness – when He forgives our sin, He separates it from us and doesn’t even remember it. We need never wallow in the past, for God forgives and forgets. We tend to dredge up the ugly past but God has wiped our record clean. If we are to follow God, we must model his forgiveness. When we forgive another, we must also forget the sin. Otherwise, we have not truly forgiven.”
That forgiveness (and forgetting) could begin with myself. If I am honest, I struggle with the assurance that God could forgive me for the sin that has complicated my life on so many occasions for so many years.
Needless to say, I didn’t have to work all that hard to find the saving relevance of that day’s passage to my feelings of shame and fear.
Interestingly, early the very next morning, the first thing I did after getting out of bed was read the new day’s devotional. It read.
“We are fragile, but God’s care is eternal. Too often we focus on God as Judge and Lawgiver, ignoring his compassion and concern for us. When God examines our lives, he remembers our human condition. Our weakness should never be used as a justification for sin. His mercy takes everything into account. God will deal with you compassionately. Trust him.”
The Lord is like a father to His children; tender and compassionate to those who fear Him. For He knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust.
Who says God doesn’t speak to anyone anymore?
(As to visions and dreams and a word from the Lord? Yeah, evidently I don’t have those. Or, at least, I wasn’t able to interpret the crazy dream I had last night about being attacked by a duck as having any prophetic message for the masses. Sorry! You’ll have to find another preacher for the vision and dream thing. I’m just grateful when my devotional app comes up big at just the right time.)