Sunday, November 3, 2013

Falling Forward: Lessons I Hope My Children Learn from the Vision Forum Sadness

Every Christian falls. But falling from ground level, I think we can all agree, is much less painful and dramatic than falling from a pedestal. Falling from ground level sometimes barely makes a sound. It doesn't crash, it doesn't boom, it doesn't reverberate through the community of believers, it doesn't usually require a letter of explanation and repentance. But falling from a height of relative fame, 'leadership' we would call it in the Church, that kind of fall is the kind that attracts attention.

This past week, believers were saddened to discover that the president of Vision Forum Ministries, Doug Phillips, has taken a fall. He did something very, very wrong. Phillips, in his own words, "engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not 'know' each other in a biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate." And the sadness in these circles, the shock, the hand over your mouth in stunned silence, is palpable.

In my own home, my 13-year-old is recently returned from a conference on fatherhood from which he came back all fired up and ready to be a Man of God, a conference where Doug Phillips was one of the keynotes. I don't know how to break this news to him, or even if we should.

Phillips did something very, very wrong. But, oh, he did something very, very right. And that, my children, is where I want you to place your focus as we all navigate through this tragedy.

It was just a few blogposts back where I was examining my own heart, wondering how I would react if one of my children came to me and confessed a same-sex attraction. And I was hoping that I would have such a grasp of the gospel that I would react with less shock and more Truth, that I would acknowledge the power of sin, the strength of the flesh, the saving grace of the blood of the Lamb to redeem and restore.

I admit that upon hearing the news, my first reaction was shock. But I submit to you that this was the wrong reaction. Are leaders immune to sin? Do teachers not also struggle with what they teach? Is there a level of Zen-like imperviousness to sin this side of Heaven? No. No. And no.

My children, do not be shocked when someone you admire sins. Rather, remind yourself that there is none righteous, that all fall short of the glory of God. Keep moral failure in perspective. Moral failure does not prove the Gospel wrong; it proves the Gospel right.

And learn a lesson from Mr. Phillips...
because he did do some things right.

"I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the Board of Vision Forum Ministries."
This was an affair of the heart. He did not have sexual relations with her. In other words, no one need ever have known. He could have rationalized that he could handle it himself. Or that it wasn't really adultery because there wasn't really sex. But he didn't. He confessed.

Lesson One: Be one with your spouse. Be transparent. Confess your faults and your weaknesses. A chord of three strands is not easily broken, and a marriage with the Holy Spirit as a third strand will withstand some fire. Mr. Phillips was right to confess to his wife and family.

Lesson Two: Be inspectable with your shepherds. There is a heretical definition of the Church floating around out there: that wherever two or more believers are gathered, that is Church. Stuff and nonsense. To be a church, there must be elders, there must be the preaching of God's Word, and there must be discipline. There must be discipline for just such times as these...
that when a sheep goes astray, the shepherds will go after him, will bring him back to the fold, will nurse him back to health, will break his legs if he tries to wander too far. Church discipline is not a 'bad dog' scolding. Rather, it is a nurturing, and its final goal is restoration. In confessing to his local church, Mr. Phillips was inspectable. He did what a good sheep does. And there is much hope for healing and restoration because of it.

My children, do not fall prey to the heresy that says you don't need a local body, that you don't need to be under authority, that having dinner with friends is church. IT.IS.NOT. Submit yourself to be inspectable and check yourself if you leave a local body because it stopped tickling your fancy. "Stop dating the Church," as author Josh Harris admonishes. Stay put. It's for your good. And staying put will be for the good of Mr. Phillips and his family. Just wait and see.

"There are no words to describe the magnitude of shame that I feel, or grief from the injury I caused my beloved bride and children..."
While Dad was teaching from Proverbs last week, he looked up 'humility' in the dictionary. Did you know that according to Webster's 1828 Dictionary,  'humility' is a derivative of humus? Humus is Latin for 'earth.' I found that enlightening. True humility, I think then, is a picture of us on the ground, acknowledging before God and others, our low state. True humility is signified by shame and grief over our own sin.

Lesson Three: Grieve over your sin. Reflect that there is really no such thing as 'private sin' and that my sin infects the whole Body, especially those closest to me. Don't be defensive regarding your sin; be repentant. Grief, repentance, humility--this is the recipe for restoration.

"I need to lead a quiet life focusing on my family and serving as a foot-soldier."
Yes. There are times to lead the charge for godly causes...and there are times to circle the wagons to protect those entrusted to our care--most especially if we have inflicted damage. There is nothing more disconcerting than watching a fallen leader who refuses to give up his position. But we are not called to lives of prestige; we are called to lives of faithfulness. And sometimes faithfulness is just mundane and daily and ordinary and one foot in front of the other.

Lesson Four: My children, when our ambition places us in a proud or precarious place, we would do well to remind ourselves that it should be our ambition to lead a quiet life. Our ambition. Our aim. Our goal. A quiet, ordinary kind of life is most often the way God can use us. And a quiet, ordinary kind of life is the best restorative for a sheep who has taken a fall. A quiet, ordinary kind of life is not a punishment; it is a therapy, one prescribed by our Great Physician. We would do well to follow doctor's orders.

This sadness over at Vision Forum is actually an excellent picture of the Gospel. It's what the Gospel looks like when it is pressed into the fabric of our daily lives. Sin is part of our daily lives. Much of it is ordinary. And much of the time, I don't think we're even aware of just how far short we fall from God's standard.  But when we're made aware of sin in our lives, let's remember with forgiven slave trader John Newton that, "I am a great sinner; Christ is a great Savior." Let's run to the Cross and take refuge there. Let's remind ourselves that this is what the Cross, what the Gospel, is all about--restoring us because we fail and we fall. And we all need that restoration.

Mr. Phillips fell. That was wrong.
But he fell on Jesus. And that was right.
Daily, daily, daily we need the Cross and the Blood.
Never be surprised by that.
Fall forward.

Teach my song to rise to You,
When temptation comes my way.
When I cannot stand, I'll fall on You.
Jesus, You're my hope and stay.
I need You, Oh I need You.
Every hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh God, how I need You. *

*(Lord, I Need You, 2011, by Christy Nockels, Daniel Carson, Jesse Reeves, Kristian Stanfill, Matt Maher)